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Nemesis by Jo Nesbo and Don Bartlett (translator)

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Nemesis by Jo Nesbo and Don Bartlett (translator)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: A complicated Scandinavian roman policier packed full of plot twists, red herrings and shocking discoveries. If you like your cops to be hard-boiled mavericks with complicated personal lives this is definitely one for you.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 720 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099505938

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There really should be a health warning or spoiler alert printed on the cover of this book. It is the third of Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole series of detective novels to be translated into English. The first was The Devil's Star, but actually The Devil's Star turns out to be the third in the series and very much the sequel to Nemesis. For some reason, the novels have been translated and published in the UK out of sequence (I guess the reason is they published the best one first to test the water . . .). Unlike most detective series novels, you really do need to read Nesbø's Harry Hole books in the correct order to get the most from them. While each novel stands alone to a certain extent, there is a thread running through them that is best followed chronologically. So if you haven't read the first in the series, The Redbreast, maybe you should do so before you read this book!

Nemesis begins with grainy CCTV footage showing a masked man walking into a bank and putting a gun to a cashier's head. He tells her to count to twenty-five. When he doesn't get his money in time, she is executed. No forensic evidence is recovered, but the Oslo police treat the incident simply as a bank robbery gone wrong and the investigation is assigned to Rune Ivarsson, the arrogant Head of the Robbery Unit. Maverick detective Harry Hole, however, has spent the whole weekend studying the CCTV videotape and believes the case should be treated as a murder, which means it should be investigated by the Crime Squad (of which he is a member). As a result, Harry is temporarily attached to the Robbery Unit in a semi-detached role with a brief to pursue the case in parallel to the main investigation.

Lurking somewhere at the back of all this is an event that took place in Nesbø's earlier novel, The Redbreast. In The Redbreast, Harry's partner and close friend, Ellen Gjelten, is beaten to death with a baseball bat. As a result, Harry had an alcoholic relapse, something he is still recovering from at the start of Nemesis. In Harry's opinion, the case of Ellen's murder had never been cleared up satisfactorily. Harry had found incriminating evidence against a suspect, but before justice could take its course Inspector Tom Waaler had shot the suspect dead in an alleged fire fight. Harry doubted Waaler's story, and felt the dead suspect's motive for killing Ellen was never satisfactorily explained.

But Ellen is dead, and Harry needs a new partner. He is assigned another female detective Beate Lønn, whose father had been an Oslo cop shot on duty during a bank raid a few years earlier. When Harry first meets Beate she reminds him of a corpse Ellen and he had once fished out of Bunnefjord. Is this a foreshadowing of events to come? Will history repeat itself?

Meanwhile, Harry's girlfriend is away in Russia, sorting out a messy divorce. While she is away, and the investigation into the bank robbery/murder is just beginning, Anna an old flame gets in touch with Harry. He meets her for a drink and goes for a coffee back to her house, where he admires a series of paintings Anna is working on. She has called the paintings Nemesis, after the goddess. A few days later, Harry goes back to Anna's for dinner, but the next morning he wakes up at home with a terrible hangover and no memory of the past twelve hours. The same morning Anna is found shot dead in her bed. Harry investigates the case without revealing his association with the dead girl, but then he begins to receive threatening e-mails by someone who seems to know there is more to Anna's death than the police suspect. Is someone trying to frame him for Anna's murder?

This is a very complex (or maybe that should be complicated) novel. There are several plots and sub-plots, clues and red herrings, and many a twist and turn. It is very well written (and the translator should get an honourable mention here) and on the whole an enjoyable read. But it is a very long book at nearly 500 pages. Around about page 300 I was beginning to wilt under the complexity of it all. But just as I was starting to run out of stamina, Nesbø introduced a shocking new element relating to Ellen Gjelten's murder and reinvigorated the story.

The ending is a puzzle, and I scratched my head over it for a while before discovering that all is revealed in the third book in the series, The Devil's Star.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - an even better Scandinavian 500-pager.

Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole Novels in Chronological Order

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