Is this the End of Harry Hole#2: Police by Jo Nesbo

Spoilers for earlier Nesbo books and dark hints for Police.

Some months ago, I finished Jo Nesbo’s novel The Phantom in a panic and querried whether that was the end of Harry Hole (pronounced hooleh).  (See Is This the End of Harry Hole  The appearance of a new book Police seemed to argue against it, but I got well into the new book -32% into it, my Kindle said- and Harry was still missing. It’s true there was a closely guarded coma patient in an otherwise empty locked ward in Oslo. That could be Harry, I thought. Last we knew, Harry’s “step-son” Oleg Fauke had gunned him down with a Russian Odessa – a copy of the better-known Stechkin – in a drug squat.

The first few pages of Police is told from that gun’s point of view, tracing its journey from Siberia to Norway in the hands of Rudolf Asayev and finally to Rakel Fauke’s house where it is now “sleeping” in a corner cupboard, smelling of old wood, powder residue and gun oil. Nesbo helpfully reminds us that two of its five bullets killed Gusto Hanssen who had pocketed Asayev’s money and dope, and that its next three bullets hit Harry Hole. Hitchcock said that if a gun is carried onto the stage in act one, it will sooner or later be an important plot device. There are 12 bullets left in the magazine.

As to the sleeping man in a hospital bed in a locked ward, a number of people hope never to see him again, including Mikael Bellman, the bent police chief, Harry’s nemesis.

After the glimpse of the hidden Odessa, Nesbo gives us a lovely picture of September in Norway and brings Erland Vennesla, a jogger and recently retired detective onto the scene. Poor Erland soon becomes the first victim in a series of carefully executed murders of police, mostly at the site of an unsolved murder that the victim investigated. As the bodies of police begin to pile up, Harry’s old boss Gunnar Hagen, head of Crime Squad, assembles a secret inside team consisting of Harry’s helpers: Katrine Bratt, the Bergen detective who spent time in a mental hospital, Beate Lonne, the head of Krimteknisk, who literally cannot forget a face, Stale Aune, Harry’s psychotherapist, and Rasta Hat, Bjorn Holm. Meeting in the Boiler Room as of old – so far beneath police headquarters that it’s almost in the prison next door- they bemoan the fact that Harry is totally unavailable. He was Norway’s only expert on serial murderers.

Long-standing bad guys are still on the scene, including Bellman, his lover Isabel Skoyen, a prominent city councilor, and Truls Bernsten, his erstwhile sidekick, temporarily suspended from the police department but still able to act the part of ‘burner’, destroyer of evidence. Bellman, of course, forbids Gunnar Hagen to split the investigation of the police murders between the regular police department and the four in the Boiler Room.

But who is the lecturer at the police college, the expert who has enthralled an attractive student, Silje Gravseng? And why are mysterious visitors waiting for him in his office? So his red-bearded colleague, Arnold, informs him? Surely this well-spoken, well-groomed person cannot be …..

As usual in Nesbo’s books, the murders are bizarre even grotesque, and in this case, duplications of old unsolved murders. And as usual Harry and his group leap to wrong conclusions. More than once. Harry is passionate about justice and committed to finding the bad guy, but bright? Not so much.

The trouble with Jo Nesbo as a writer is that he is capable of cold bloodedly killing off even the most beloved characters. He had Ellen Gjelten, Harry’s partner beaten to death just when she was about to tell Harry who the ‘Prince’ was. As a result, Oleg got kidnapped by the villain and narrowly escaped death, not for the last time. Then in the next book, Halvorsen, Harry’s new partner and father of Beate’s son, got gunned down. Moreover, Nesbo has said that Cockroaches due to be released soon is the last Harry Hole novel. (It is actually the second book after The Bat and before The Redbreast, translated only now.)

As the novel reaches its climax, Rakel and Oleg are menaced once again and surely this time, Harry cannot save them. Or himself.

Thus, this reader arrived near the end of the book at a solemn church service where the Boiler Room crew and the surviving cast members have assembled. Bellman is impatient for the organ to announce the ceremony. How inappropriate!

I may never forgive Nesbo for his tricky ways.

Guess What Came Up at Dinner: Herman Koch’s novel The Dinner


(If you plan to read The Dinner and you hate any kind of spoiler, walk on by. But if you don’t mind knowing a little, read on.)

A week or so ago, I got bent out of shape by the ending of Jo Nesbo’s The Phantom ( -Is this the end of Harry Hole?) This week it’s Herman Koch’s The Dinner, which has recently been translated from Dutch and published in English and has, from all reports, become a runaway best seller. In the first case, my reaction arose out of affection. Not so, with The Dinner.

The newspapers I get were coy in their reviews. One review in the National Post, recommended that potential readers should read nothing about the book, not even that review. Apparently, there was a surprise that we should not spoil. As I later found out other reviewers were more straight-forward, even allowing that Koch was true to his usual depiction of humanity. I wish I had read them first or had some prior knowledge of Koch’s other work. What I wanted badly when I finished was someone to talk to about the book. So far, I haven’t found anyone.

You’re it, I guess.

A reviewer for the Toronto Star called the narrator, Paul Lohman, “fairly reliable”. Excuse me? It is true that initially, I assumed the narrator and I had some opinions in common, a distaste for contemporary food pornography for one. The novel’s action is set in an upscale Amsterdam restaurant and each section is titled after a dinner course, ‘Aperitif’, ‘Appetizer’, all the way to ‘Digestif’. Reviews tend to quote the same sentence to illustrate what Paul (and I/we) disdain: the maitre d’ points with a bent pinkie finger and says, “The lamb’s-neck sweetbread has been marinated in Sardinian olive oil with rocket…the sun dried tomatoes come from Bulgaria.” (Alan Preston: The Observer) Makes you remember when your mother told you about the little children starving in China. In spite of the initial “civilized” opinions with which the reader can agree, it soon becomes evident that Paul is not as he portrays himself. As a history teacher, he has been placed on the non-active list. And, under stress, he is not to be trusted around a burning pan.

Two couples, Paul and his wife, Claire, and his brother, Serge and his wife, Babette, have met for dinner to discuss an extremely serious family matter. The only reason they have been able to get a last minute table at this exclusive restaurant is that Serge is a political rock star, about to be elected prime minister. According to Paul, Serge is a hypocrite, an egotist, a man without taste in food or holiday home. Certainly it would appear that Serge has used very bad judgement in locating this sensitive discussion in such a public venue, but I suppose, both families are trying to avoid their 15 year-old sons who are the subject of the discussion. A first person narrator requires the reader to agree to see events through that narrator’s eyes and this gets creepier and creepier as the novel moves on.

Suppose you are a parent. Suppose your child has done something morally wrong. How do you handle it? Do you consider your primary loyalty to lie with your family unit or do you take the wider human family into account? Do you consider the impact on your child’s future education and career or do you consider it necessary to right a wrong?

Once upon a time, my 7 year-old son pocketed his friend’s dinky toy at show-and-tell. He showed it to me saying his friend had given it to him. I questioned the culprit briefly and marched him to his friend’s door where son returned the toy and said sorry. I didn’t even wait to ask Dad his opinion. In my opinion, that was my son’s education. But of course, I am not labouring under Paul’s difficulty, an unnamed genetically caused anger-management issue. A number of reviewers thought that weakened Koch’s examination of our present day tendency to violence.

So what am I saying? Am I disgruntled that a whole book is taken up with a fruitless discussion of the sort of problem I think most parents would resolve in a heartbeat? Well, even I might have needed a few heartbeats given the viciousness of this deed. But what kind of people handle things as Paul and Claire do in the end? Is this what we have become?

Serge has his own idea with which the other three do not agree. While it is indeed better, he might have been more persuasive – he is a politician after all – and he pays a terrible price. Let’s just say that this is the last time he will get a table at this swanky restaurant and that will be the least of his problems. There is no nemesis, no natural justice, no neatly tied up ends in The Dinner. The female of the species turns out to be more monstrous than the male and their 15 year-old son is bound to become a monster of an entirely different order.


I need to note that I felt compassion as I made my 7 year-old return the purloined toy. It was humiliating for him. But one of his best qualities now is his integrity.

For an update about the movie see

Is This the End of Harry Hole? – Jo Nesbo’s The Phantom:

(Of course there is a spoiler of sorts for The Phantom as well as for The Snowman.)

Yikes! as they used to say in the funny papers, is this the end of Harry Hole?

I get to page 440 of The Phantom and have to stop to phone Georgia, who gave me all the Jo Nesbo books for Christmas.

“Tell me it isn’t true!” I demand, but she doesn’t have time to talk. She has to rush off. “Yes or no, doesn’t take long”, I grumble as she disconnects.

I had listened to an interview with Nesbo, in which he conceded that Harry wasn’t going to go on forever, but not yet, I’m not ready to let him go yet.

It’s way past time to get dinner, but I can’t go on. I sit down, reread that page carefully, read the next ten pages very carefully, cogitate, examine and finally, go on line. Dinner is very late.

If you have read any of Nesbo’s series about the Oslo detective, Harry Hole ( sounds like whoole with the e sounded), you know that Harry is not sufficiently hardboiled. He can take any amount of physical abuse and pain, but he suffers from the emotional aftermath of his cases. The ghosts that haunt him in his dreams make his alcoholism worse. At the beginning of The Leopard, he is living in Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong. The name belies the sordidness of the accommodations. He has fled there after The Snowman almost succeeded in killing Rakel, the woman Harry loves, and her son, Oleg. He is controlling his drinking by using opium. Kaja Solness has been dispatched by the police department to bring him back to catch a new serial killer, The Leopard. Harry would not have returned if she had not also brought news that Harry’s father is very ill.

Return he does and fights his way doggedly through a labyrinth of scant evidence and best guesses, taking the usual wrong turns in his search for a murderer who uses a bizarre weapon only available in the Congo. He accumulates ever more angst, including another recurring nightmare, and new physical scars and, having solved the case, flees back to Hong Kong.

Where he gets a job although it’s just as well not to inquire what his mandate is as long as you are clear that it requires wearing a suit, linen for the climate. He is neither drinking nor getting high. This time, he returns to Norway at his own behest. One of his ghosts is in trouble. The one causing the trouble is an invisible figure who gives rise to the title, The Phantom but not one who deals the blow on page 440.

So what did I conclude after all that pre-dinner research and careful rereading? It’s a matter of interpretation, no doubt. Mine prefers to err on the optimistic side. Who is that “poor man” the priest gives a twenty krone coin to as he muses about the beggar’s “innocent blue eyes of a newborn baby that needs no forgiveness for sins as yet”.