The Devil's Star by
pbk out October 05
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
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.