Hor­rors on the de­tec­tive trail

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Each is a mid­dle-aged de­tec­tive; each is a fin­ger short be­cause of a past act of bru­tal­ity. Their re­la­tions with col­leagues are vexed; with loved ones, pre­car­i­ous or fin­ished. Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gun­ther is on his 12th out­ing in Prus­sian Blue, in a se­ries that be­gan in 1989 with March Vi­o­lets, where the back­ground was the 1936 Ber­lin Olympics. Gun­ther’s ad­ven­tures span the early 1930s to the mid-50s, al­though part of his back­story is a nar­row es­cape from an Aus­tralian sniper in World War I.

He has been a Ber­lin cop, a So­cial Demo­crat, scorn­fully and reck­lessly anti-Nazi be­fore be­ing forced into the SS at the di­rec­tion of Rein­hard Hey­drich. He sur­vives a pris­oner-of-war camp in Rus­sia and du­ties at Dachau. Af­ter World War II his ex­ploits take him to Ar­gentina, where he meets the Perons and Josef Men­gele, and to Ha­vana be­fore Fidel Castro’s takeover.

Ev­i­dently Kerr has had as much fun as his read­ers, be­cause the Bri­tish au­thor keeps ex­tend­ing a se­ries he had in­tended to con­clude.

The Thirst is the 11th time around for Jo Nesbo’s Oslo homi­cide de­tec­tive Harry Hole (‘‘Hoo-leh’’). The first — The Bat (1997) — saw him solv­ing the mur­der of a Nor­we­gian in, of all places, Australia.

Like many gifted, in­tu­itive, ex­as­per­at­ing fic­tional crime solvers, Hole is an al­co­holic. Se­rial killers are a spe­cialty forced upon him. They re- emerge from past cases, ei­ther never caught, es­caped or re­leased from prison.

The lat­est book ends with a men­ac­ing 75year-old bent on de­stroy­ing Harry’s frag­ile fam­ily, who has a hole (dif­fer­ent pro­nun­ci­a­tion) in his hand by which to re­mem­ber the de­tec­tive. He will be back in the next in­stal­ment.

Harry has sur­vived ad­dic­tion and a spell work­ing for the tri­ads in Hong Kong. Now he has been re­called from a se­date job lec­tur­ing at the po­lice col­lege to snare a blood-drink­ing ma­niac. Later this year he will also have to weather Michael Fass­ben­der’s im­per­son­ation of him in the film of the 2007 novel The Snow­man.

Both Prus­sian Blue and The Thirst are long nov­els that move swiftly. In Nesbo’s, we find our­selves in the Jeal­ousy Bar, where a hap­less man tries to pick up a lawyer through a Tin­der date, while another — in cow­boy boots — watches. The boots take us back to an un­ap­pre- hended foe of Hole’s, Valentin Gjer­sten, who has a tat­too of a snarling devil on his torso and who has es­caped from prison.

For three years ‘‘he had hid­den from the po­lice­man with mur­der in his eyes’’. Now he is back, lead­ing us through bars and Turk­ish baths, into locked apart­ments to which no ingress ought to have been pos­si­ble. He bites vic­tims with a set of iron teeth, mildly and madly re­flect­ing: ‘‘What could be more pleas­ant, more ra­tio­nal and more nor­mal than feel­ing thirsty?’’

Hole has been black­mailed into track­ing him down by cor­rupt, adul­ter­ous and po­lit­i­cally am­bi­tious po­lice chief Mikael Bell­man, who lost an eye in Po­lice (2013) and now sports a dash­ing patch. When Hole ap­pears at the sec­ond mur­der scene, a young of­fi­cer says, ‘‘I thought he was a myth.’’ But he is back, with his ‘‘dour, al­most fright­en­ing charisma’’, in the ser­vice of his mis­tress ‘‘mur­der’’ and not the other, ‘‘al­co­hol’’.

Nesbo blocks in am­ple com­pli­ca­tions. Hole

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