Horrors on the detective trail
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