Tangled Web UK Review December 2005
File Updated: 03/12/2005

Buy at Amazon Price The Devil's Star The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo
pbk out October 05 (Harvill) at £11.99

Ambitious, urgent and humane, Jo Nesbø's first book to be published over here soon makes it clear why he is one of the rising stars of Nordic crime fiction.
There's a heatwave in Oslo, and Vibeke Knutsen, one half of an uneasily co-existing couple, makes a grisly discovery amongst her boiled potatoes: small black lumps in the water, later identified as congealed blood from a body in the attic flat above. Harry Hole "the best detective on the sixth floor" would normally be police chief Wøller's first choice for the case. But Hole is also a lone wolf, an advanced alcoholic separated from his wife and child (did I hear a groan?) and haunted by the recent murder of a close colleague. So Hole finds himself working alongside Tom Wøller, Wøller's other "best detective", but one who, Hole increasingly believes, may have something to do with the murder of his friend and colleague. Hole is, of course, in a UK context at least, a walking crime fiction cliché. But it is a sign of the excellent writer revealed here that Nesbø quickly establishes him as one of the most credible police officers of recent times. The body in the attic flat is that of a young woman, naked and with a finger severed from her left hand. Later a tiny pentagram shaped red diamond is discovered, hidden behind an eyelid. (Was that another groan?) But again, there's more to this case than at first meets the eye.
Nesbø manages to keep a complex, even baroque plot continually on the boil, the tension between the confident Waaler and the slowly healing Hole as he scrabbles after salvation, particularly well conveyed. Dialogue is edgy and real. Nesbø also takes time to establish all of his characters, even minor ones. What emerges in Don Bartlett's very readable translation is not only an atmospheric portait of a major city caught in a heatwave, but a sharp picture of a society in flux, strong on relevant detail as you might expect from an ex-freelance journalist, particularly where the role of the media is described. Nor is Norway's real-life contribution to serial killer annals neglected (ex-Sunday school teacher Bella Gunness – check her out in the Wilson/Pitman Encyclopaedia of Murder).
Whilst some may miss the moral framework of Henning Mankell (Nesbø is generally more tolerant of the extremes of human nature), this is another winner from Harvill. With partner- in-crime Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbø puts Norwegian crime fiction well and truly on the UK map.

( Bob Cornwell )

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