Monday, November 5, 2012

Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole

Jo Nesbo
Reading some books are like white water rafting (think Stieg Larsson and The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo).  Others are like drifting down a lazy river in a rubber tube (think Alexander McCall Smith's series about Precious Ramotswe and the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency or Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, reviewed here).  Put Jo Nesbo's series featuring Norwegian detective Harry Hole in the white water rafting category - Class 5.

The Harry Hole series by Norwegian Jo Nesbo consists of nine books, eight of them translated into English.  That's already a step up on the Stieg Larsson, which left us gasping for more after just three.  I've written a couple of posts (here and here) about particular Harry Hole books, but I wanted to comment on the series as a whole, having now read everything that's available in English.

Detective series like this are an interesting genre.  The author can develop a character over several novels, and while each book stands alone, it's a particular pleasure to read the books in sequence.

Nesbo's Detective Harry Hole is tall, blond, with 'light blue alcohol washed irises' and a tenacious way of going after a criminal.  He's a lone wolf, and definitely not interested in playing office politics.  He's often a thorn in the side of police authority with his willingness to take on politically sensitive crimes, to follow up clues that could lead to embarrassment, not to mention appearing on TV for an interview visibly intoxicated.  Tormented by traumatic events of the past, he takes up extreme exercise to exorcise his demons, but still suffers from nightmares.

The thing I found most interesting about Hole is that he's a character who keeps an open mind, even after he believes he's found the culprit.  Behavioural psychologists have shown us how people will ignore new contradictory information that arrives after they've formed a conclusion, or distort it so that it actually supports their conclusion.  (Just look at reactions to the Presidential candidates to see how you can interpret 'facts' differently depending on whether you are Republican or Democrat).   However, when Hole receives new information that doesn't fit his theory, he sits back and re-evaluates.  It's an interesting character trait, and makes for particularly interesting reading because it leads to sharp turns in the plot.

Hole's, or Nesbo's, is a darker vision of Norway than we commonly see with a streak of bleak cynicism.  Take this quote about a time when Harry is chasing down someone with mental health issues.  "You mean the rat-catching game?  The innate ability to lock up people with mental illnesses, addiction problems, well under average intellect and well above average childhood deprivation?"

I found all the books difficult to put down once started and I observed my husband having the same reaction.  Although I didn't enjoy the increasingly deviant violence as the series progressed, I was able to ignore that to keep reading to discover the solution.

Reading these books makes one feel like a participant in a fad (see this article in the Economist about Scandinavian crime writers).  However, an avid reader will always be overjoyed to find books that can hold attention over the span of several books.

I highly recommend these books - I think you'll like them better than Stieg Larsson's.

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