Some books by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett

I have been having a bit of a Jo Nesbo fest recently, as part of a possibly doomed attempt to read all the shortlisted novels for the Crime Writers' Association international dagger award before the winner is announced in about a week's time. I had read four of the six books when the shortlist was announced, which admittedly helps a lot.

Although I had not read Jo Nesbo's The Redeemer, I won it at Crime Fest, so had a copy to hand. Life is not that simple, though. Nesbo's Harry Hole series is one of many to be translated into English out of chronological order – and in this particular case, it's an egregious crime because the impact of the "trilogy within the series" (The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil's Star) is ruined if you do what I did and read the third one first, followed by the first one. The Redeemer follows on from this "trilogy".

Nothing for it, then, but to buy Nemesis and read that first. And a gripping read it is, too. The character of the police detective, Harry Hole, previously rather patchy and chaotic, began to gel in my mind. I'm sure he looks exactly like Don Bartlett, the excellent translator of the series (though Don has more hair than Harry). Nemesis turns out to be a very exciting book. Harry is mourning the death of a colleague and has his suspicions (actually, convictions) of who is the perpetrator. However, after six months he has failed to find any evidence so has agreed with his boss to go back to his usual duties. His girlfriend Rakel and her son Oleg are in Russia, where Rakel is petitioning the courts for custody of Oleg. While she's away, Harry bumps into Anna, a woman with whom he had a brief fling some years previously. Anna is now an artist of sorts, and has created a strange triptych of paintings surrounding a lighted statue – Nemesis. Harry is soon investigating two crimes, in an intensely plotted and detailed narrative (you need to read every paragraph carefully to spot all the clues). There are some real implausibilities in the plot when the ending is finally revealed – not least the perpetrator of both the crime and the way in which Harry is manipulated in his attempts to solve it – but I didn't mind because by then I was won over to Harry: he's a flawed, angst-ridden, funny alcoholic – inevitably a maverick but one who in the main uses his brain and wit rather than his fists to demonstrate his independence.

I then had to re-read The Devil's Star, of course, as in the two or three years or so since I read it previously I had forgotten most of the details. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed it – due in no large part to the excellent translation (Don Bartlett again) and the strange coincidence of identity (in my mind) between the translator and the character of Harry. Reading this book after the previous two made an extraordinary difference – it was a far more rounded, and moving, experience this time around, as Harry returns to his pursuit of the person who he believes murdered his colleague, while at the same time investigating a series of ritualised killings that seem to be related. The characters and their relationships are one of the main strengths of the book, and the convolutions of the plot are so intriguing that you have to keep reading on, driven to know how it is all going to work out. The solution to the crime is again somewhat weak, but I think more believable than the outcomes to the cases in The Redbreast and Nemesis (the latter is particularly daft).

Finally, I was ready to read The Redeemer – but given the length of this post, I'll return to that another time. If you can't wait until then, you can read reviews of the book at Crime Scraps, The Independent, Nordic Book Blog, Mysteries in Paradise, International Noir Fiction and Reviewing the Evidence. 

Crime Scraps on "Keeping Harry in Order" (a very useful post!)

Michael Walters on the Harry Hole novels.

Crime Scraps: notes from Nesbo.

Don Bartlett's website.

6 thoughts on “Some books by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett

  1. Excellent review, Maxine – I was fortunate enough to read the trilogy in order, and it was ‘Nemesis’ that really won me over, primarily for Hole’s character. I agree with you on the plots. For me, there’s a slightly contrived element to them which sits a little uncomfortably with the naturalism of the books. I think one of the difficulties of crime fiction is that readers sometimes expect (or writers think readers expect…) a twist in the tale even when it’s not necessarily in the book’s best interests. But it’s a minor gripe given the other strengths of Nesbo’s books. Oh, and thanks for the link!

  2. I am glad that you enjoyed them so much. It is true that he is not overly concerned with realistic plots; still his characters are so engaging that you can´t help returning to his books.

  3. Thanks for such excellent comments, Michael and Dorte. I agree with you both. One reason I enjoy authors such as Karin Altvegen and Liza Marklund – and even some of Henning Mankell – is that the “plot” has become irrelevant by the end of the book. The reader (well, me) finishes the book with a sense of satisfaction, and it is only a few days’ later that one realises that the plot sort of petered out….or became unimportant compared with character and emotion.

  4. Thanks for the tip about reading Nesbo in order Maxine. I have Nemisis here and was ready to read it but I will locate the Redbreast and read that first – I do like to read in order whenever possible and some series have been thoroughly ruined for me by reading out of order.

  5. I don’t understand what you mean by a trilogy within the series. Do you mean that it is only the trilogy that needs to be read in order? or that they hang together in some other sense?

  6. Sorry, Tim – it is intrinsically confusing.
    #1 and #2 of the series have not yet been translated.
    #3, #4 and #5 make up a trilogy and I think yes, they have to be read in order for them to have impact.
    #6, The Redeemer, is next in the series and can be read without having read the previous books. (but is better if you have read them).
    Of the trilogy itself, #3 and #5 are the most closely linked (The Redbreast and The Devil’s Star). These two really do need to be read in that order. It would be possible to read #4 (Nemesis) as a standalone, but again, impact would be lost I think.

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