Written by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett — The staggering ending to Phantom left us all in disbelief. Could Harry Hole really be dead? In the ninth Harry Hole novel to be translated from Norwegian into English we find out. It opens with a patient lying in a coma, under police protection. Seeing as Hole took two bullets to the body, and one to the head, it’s fair to assume that it’s him. Will the patient pull through, though?
The trouble now is that while Hole is out of commission someone is murdering police officers. The first victim is Erlend Vennesla, a cop who’s had a good career but is haunted by one case he failed to solve. The second is Bertil Nilsen, another decent enough investigator, but he never caught the man who raped and mutilated a girl in a ski hut years ago. The killer is luring officers involved in unsolved cases back to the crime scenes, and murdering them using techniques mirroring the original killings.
Gunnar Hagen, head of the Crime Squad, is getting nowhere. His superior – the very slimy new police chief, Mikael Bellman – is under political pressure to crack the case. So Hagen pulls together a team that includes some familiar faces. Bjørn Holm and Beate Lønne deal with the forensics and other evidence, while Katrine Bratt comes down from Bergen to help with the investigation. Meanwhile, psychologist Ståle Aune is their criminal profiler. The clues so far point towards a serial rapist and murderer called Valentin. But the case is still wide open, and their key player is missing – one Harry Hole.
When we eventually meet Hole again, he’s teaching at Oslo’s police academy. Luckily that bullet didn’t reach his brain. Mellowed out, he has confronted some of the demons that have dogged him in previous novels. He’s off the booze and back in a good relationship with Rakel Fauke. Oleg – who shot him down in Phantom’s conclusion – is like a stepson to him again. If he can avoid another dark, all-consuming murder investigation, he won’t let Rakel and Oleg down again. However, his old colleagues need him – badly. Very reluctantly, he joins the team.
There’s intrigue at every turn in Police, pointing back to the book’s title. The victims are all police. Could the killer be connected to the force too? At the police academy, naive student Silje Gravsend hits on Hole and when he rebuffs her she accuses him of rape. Corrupt chief Bellman is paranoid his connections with the Russian mob will be revealed, while his thuggish sidekick Truls Berntsen is desperate to get back into the police force after being suspended – again, payments from Russian gangsters. Meanwhile, Hole is certain he doesn’t want a badge.
The deeper theme Nesbo deftly works is that of injustice. The killer is obsessed with unsolved cases. Why are some murders more important to the police than others? How much of an injustice is it when nobody is caught for a heinous crime? If a prisoner is killed in his cell shouldn’t the police investigate it with the same diligence as they would the murder of an innocent child? What are the consequences when they don’t?
The one let-down is the book’s first section. The author keeps us guessing about Harry Hole’s fate for too long, and the deception feels too deliberate. However, the narrative is just as gripping as any prior Harry Hole novel. There are plenty of terrifying moments, changes of pace and new twists. Hole is sober now and his nihilism is giving way to hope. There are fewer of Nesbo’s hallmark abstract, dreamlike sequences. The result – the plot feels tighter and more grounded. How much has Harry Hole really changed, though? Find out in Police – it’s scary, explosive, bloody and made in Norway.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars