Jo Nesbø de­liv­ers the goods once more

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - LIFE - By John Sul­li­van

NOR­WE­GIAN writer Jo Nesbø’s lat­est Harry Hole thriller, Po­lice (Ran­dom House, 528 pages, $25), is a guar­an­teed, bags-un­der-your-eyes marathon read, its cat-and-mouse game with the reader so clev­erly be­guil­ing it should come with a dust cover ad­vi­sory: “Warn­ing: May be harm­ful to your job, mar­riage, sleep and blood pres­sure.”

It’s not just that Nesbø has, over the course of 10 Hole books, con­jured up one of the most mag­netic de­tec­tives — some say, char­ac­ter of any stripe — in mod­ern fic­tion, aided by a re­cur­ring and one-off cast im­bued with the same vis­ceral magic. Nor that few can match his warts-and-all ren­der­ing of Oslo and its in­hab­i­tants for sheer tan­gi­bil­ity of set­ting.

No, it’s that the new chal­lenge to Hole and his team — a vi­cious se­rial killer stalk­ing cops in­volved in pre­vi­ously un­solved mur­ders — is so pep­pered with mis­steps, false leads, blind al­leys and dashed hopes you’ll have to re­sist plead­ing, shout­ing, tear­ing your hair out or just burn­ing the damn thing.

Nesbø sets the hook early, at least for read­ers of 2011’s Phan­tom, who last saw poor Harry shot up by his paramour’s drugged-up son: A bat­tered, un­named coma vic­tim is un­der hos­pi­tal guard, with a newly minted po­lice chief and equally ruth­less city of­fi­cial schem­ing to en­sure he never wakes up.

And, amaz­ingly, our wildly ob­ses­sive train­wreck of an anti-hero is en­tirely ab­sent from the first third of the book, though his spec­tre hangs over the small crime squad team as the in­ves­ti­ga­tion hits one dead end af­ter another and more hor­ri­bly mu­ti­lated bod­ies turn up.

But when a scarcely rec­og­niz­able Harry does fi­nally ap­pear, the shock value is muted by the har­ried pace and com­plex­ity of the nar­ra­tive as Nesbø ratch­ets up the sus­pense on mul­ti­ple fronts to hair-trig­ger in­ten­sity. Another warn­ing: Bath­room breaks will be hard to man­age at this point.

For all of that, Po­lice is a more con­ven­tional cop pro­ce­dural, with fewer ghoul­ish tableaux, night­mar­ish stream-of-con­scious­ness in­ter­ludes and Harry-es­que in­tro­spec­tion than pre­vi­ous in­stal­ments. Has Nesbø, with his bur­geon­ing in­ter­na­tional pop­u­lar­ity, gone more com­mer­cial?

Well, yes, but ac­ces­si­bil­ity isn’t a bad thing if you de­liver the goods, as Nesbø once again does in his own inim­itable style.

Even for those not greatly en­am­oured of his­tor­i­cal mys­ter­ies, the se­quel to Lyn­d­say Faye’s re­mark­able 2012 evo­ca­tion of 1840s New York and its fledg­ling po­lice force, The Gods of Gotham, has been greatly an­tic­i­pated. Was it a one-shot won­der, or would the young, nou­veau New Yorker brush off the se­quel curse and birth an ex­tra­or­di­nary, multi-part saga?

No wor­ries — fire-scarred, lovelorn, over­cu­ri­ous Ti­mothy Wilde, his “three-quar­ters de­spi­ca­ble” brother Valen­tine and a mot­ley crew of newly minted “cop­per stars” are back in even finer form in Seven for a Se­cret (464 pages, Amy Ein­horn/Put­nam, $29).

It’s six months since Tim, with his sib­ling’s re­luc­tant but un­apolo­get­i­cally vi­o­lent help, brought down a child-mur­derer, but lost his true love Mercy, who has em­i­grated to Lon­don. Now, a young mu­latto woman’s son and sis­ter are kid­napped from the home of a key Demo­cratic state se­na­tor by “black­bird­ers,” slave-catch­ers who prey on free blacks and run­aways alike.

Self-ef­fac­ing but righ­teously mo­ti­vated, Tim blun­ders through a po­lit­i­cal, racial and re­li­gious mine­field that rou­tinely sparks ri­ots and as­sorted bed­lam, try­ing to re­cover the miss­ing and get them to Canada via the Un­der­ground Rail­road. And, once again, his repro­bate brother, con­stantly dis­dain­ful of his younger brother’s po­lit­i­cal naiveté and fear­ing it will be the end of him, comes to the res­cue.

Faye’s vi­sion of an­te­bel­lum New York, down to its lowlife “flash” lex­i­con, is so au­then­ti­cally fas­ci­nat­ing, so thor­oughly wed­ded to blood-and-bone char­ac­ters and per­ilous, jaw-drop­ping nar­ra­tive, as to mimic time travel. It’s a trip well worth tak­ing.

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