Breakneck plot makes for an addictive 'Phantom'
Jo Nesbo, whose crime thrillers have sold more than 10 million copies in Europe and the United States, has been anointed as the latest king of Scandinavian noir, the heir to the addictive-page-turning throne left vacant by the death of Stieg Larsson.
But reading his books in Los Angeles brings to mind a different archetypal noir figure: Michael Connelly's tortured LAPD detective Harry Bosch.
Nesbo's detective, who is featured in nine of his 16 books, including his latest, “Phantom,” is also named Harry. Harry Hole.
Like Bosch, Hole is an obsessive, depressive, combative, hard-drinking genius who views his city through bleak eyes even as he sacrifices his sanity and relationships to save it.
His city is Oslo. Not the bright, social-welfare state with the beneficent king; no, this Oslo is a dark and decaying place, haunted by its Nazi past, where drug addicts and murderers roam with impunity and the police force is too corrupt or politicized or stupid to do anything about it.
In previous books, Hole spent his time fighting to save the police bureaucracy from itself, even as he raced around the city trying to track down diabolical killers before they struck again. By the time “Phantom” begins, Hole has retired from the Oslo police department and moved to Hong Kong to try to sober up.
But of course, he comes back. Oleg, the son of his one true love — a woman, it goes without saying, that Hole has left because of his own demons — is in jail for murder. Hole wants to find out whether the boy really did it, and whether there is more to the story.
Because he is Harry Hole, he turns up in a linen suit and goes straight to a seedy hotel in a rundown part of town, where his interaction with the desk clerk is part comedy, part existential crisis.
Asked to fill in his date of birth on a registration form, Hole muses: “He had always liked fixed routines, discipline, order. So why had his life been chaos instead, such self-destruction and a series of broken relationships between dark periods of intoxication? The blank boxes looked up at him questioningly, but they were too small for the answers they required.”
There are some readers who will feel such prose itself amounts to a petty crime. But even many of them will be helpless in the face of Nesbo's brilliant, breakneck plotting, which sends Hole back and forth across Oslo, unraveling an intricate series of clues about the city's drug trade and its police force, which is as corrupt as ever.
No matter how desperate things get, there is always time for a little romance. At one point, following a knife fight as various pursuers close around him, Hole closes his own neck wound with duct tape and then heads off to a fancy hotel for a rendezvous with a doomed love.
Jessica Garrison is a writer for the Los Angeles Times.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Burnett writing incredible final chapter
- Alvarez’s walk-off single lifts Pirates over Padres
- Alle-Kiski police try to get drivers to cool it
- New Kensington to consider bake shop
- Crude oil tumble signals low gasoline prices this fall
- Pirates notebook: Four players selected for All-Star Game
- New Kensington residents furious over road conditions
- Connellsville kicks off farmers market
- Torn thumb ligament puts Pirates’ Harrison on 15-day disabled list
- Crazy Mocha owner likes comfort, says shrewd decisions foster growth
- Players continue traditional pickup game