Harry Hole, an ex-detective from the Oslo police, has been living in Hong Kong for three years. He returns to his native city when he hears that someone close to him has been arrested for the shooting and killing of Gusto, a young junkie/drug-dealer. His ex-boss seems keen to encourage Harry to return to his old job, but Harry simply wants to investigate this one particular case.
Over the next few days, Harry begins to uncover the details of the Oslo drug scene. He soon finds out that the main supplies are controlled by “Dubai”, so named because he employs street boys wearing Arsenal football shirts to sell his product (“Fly Emirates” is written on the shirts). Dubai is also known as the Phantom because nobody knows who he is or where he lives: he is said to wander the streets like a ghost. The product his “employees” sell is “violin”, a synthetic product derived from morphine that is more addictive than heroin – Harry receives a chemistry lesson about the drug from a couple of doctors at the nearby Radium hospital, where it is made and prescribed to terminally ill patients.
Harry’s mission is to find who really killed Gusto. He soon finds himself overwhelmed with suspects, from the head of the drug squad and/or his second in command (two old adversaries), to an ambitious councillor, through to Gusto’s relations as well as various rival drug-dealers and low life. Gusto himself has an active role in the novel as he experiences his final moments and looks back on the events of his life. The two narratives come together to form a typical Nesbo climax, which leaves readers on tenterhooks.
Phantom is a great, page-turner of a read, uncluttered by the over-complication that sometimes slightly mars earlier novels in the series. Don Bartlett, as ever, provides a superb translation, sensitive to Harry’s particular brand of humour as well as to the seamy lowlife and their in-jokes about London football clubs and the like. Yet there are certainly some oddities, even flaws, in the novel. Harry, for example, is so fixated on his mission that he does not seem to do anything or even care about some of the widespread corruption he uncovers. He is too much of a superman in his unpreparedness for meetings with people he knows may have cause to want him out of the way, and indeed some of the methods he uses to pursue his goals, such as getting the city’s power supply instantly turned off so he can attempt to escape when cornered by some baddies, or sewing up his own cut throat and chin. The author sets up some situations purely, it seems, to provide an inventively horrible (if mercifully fairly brief) set-piece rather than to advance the plot or provide insights about the characters. Yet, Phantom is a telling book, with a powerful message about what addiction can do to people’s lives (three young lives in particular), and conveying with equal depth the blindness, and therefore dangers, of love.
I thank Karen of Euro Crime for lending me this book.
Euro Crime: the Harry Hole series in order, with links to reviews of each book.
And for a bit of light relief: the digested read by John Crace. (Warning, full of spoilers.)