In the cold of winter in Oslo, Harry Hole is investigating the case of a young drug addict who has apparently committed suicide among the containers in a shipyard. He's undecided about his future with the police force: although he has achieved closure concerning the death of his colleague (described in three previous novels: The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil's Star), the reverberations have left him even more outside the mainstream than before. His lover Rakel has rejected him in favour of a careerist doctor. What's more, his sympathetic boss, Bjarne Moller, has retired and been replaced by a stickler for discipline, Gunnar Hagan. It isn't long before Harry and his new boss are rubbing each other up the wrong way, as Hagan reacts against Harry's intuitive and freewheeling approach (no doubt he would be shocked at Harry's failure ever to have had business cards printed).
Harry is nothing if not a good detective, though, and rapidly unearths the facts behind the young man's death which his younger, slicker colleagues have overlooked. His method of solving the case proves critical to the climax of the next investigation, which takes up the bulk of the book.
An assassin from Vukovar is in Oslo, whose target is a member of the Salvation Army. We are told the life story of the assassin, known as the Little Redeemer for his actions in the terrible wars during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. We also learn a great amount about the workings of the Norwegian branch of the Salvation Army, the raging jealousies and relationship traumas of its younger members, and the shady business dealings concerning the lucrative properties that the Army owns in Oslo. I admired the fact that the author managed to keep me interested in the story of the Little Redeemer, because the 'disaffected assassin' theme is one that crops up quite often in thrillers and tends to create a sense of deja vu.(For an example of an excellent book in this subgenre, I highly recommend The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidson.)
I was less interested in the Salvation Army characters, finding most of them (the men, certainly) either unsympathetic or not well-drawn, or both. I would prefer to have read more about Harry, his personal life and his colleagues. As the plot thickens – and it is a very fast-moving, exciting plot – there are a couple of rather gruesome set-pieces, as well as another tragedy that strikes the Oslo police team. Harry himself presses on with the investigation, finding himself drawn to one of the Army members, which of course distracts him from his pursuit of the Redeemer. As I've found previously with this author, the final disentangling of who hired the assassin and why does really stretch credulity – however, the story of the Redeemer and his circumstances are, perhaps because more simple, rather moving, and I was pleased by Harry's choices in the end-game.
Although you don't need to have read the earlier books in the series to enjoy The Redeemer, I think you'll enjoy it a lot more if you have done. There are nuances running throughout the text, for example Harry's relationship with watches and with his retired ex-boss, that won't make much sense in isolation of the previous novels. I think the Harry Hole books comprise one of the top police-procedural series being written today. Although the books have flaws, they are flaws of ambition – the plots are very clever, and if perhaps they are sometimes a bit too clever, that's better than the opposite. These novels are thoughtful, intelligent, exciting and above all, have a great central character.
'You're moving into a difficult area for theologians, Hole. Are you a Christian?'
'No. I'm a detective. I believe in proof.'
I recommend reading all the books – in the right order. (English readers won't have been able to read the first two chronological novels in the series, which have not yet been translated, but the next one, The Snowman, will be out in English fairly soon, and follows directly on from The Redeemer.)
See yesterday's post for other reviews of the book, and links to further discussion about Nesbo's novels.
Jo Nesbo at Euro Crime: lists the books so far translated into English (excellently, all by Don Bartlett), with links to reviews.
Euro Crime news about forthcoming novels by Nesbo .
Crime Scraps: Is Jo Nesbo Europe's top crime writer?