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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Devil's Star

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett
Published by Harper Collins
Hardcover, $25.99

I used to read some crime fiction writers - Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta series (the older ones), Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton- but I haven't read much lately. I read many books, but I am one of the few who hasn't read Stieg Larsson's The Girl With trilogy, so I thought I'd get back on the wagon with Jo Nesbo's The Devil's Star.

Nesbo has a lot of buzz about him in the publishing world, and since he is from Norway, he is also Scandinavian like Larsson, so perhaps that will encourage more people to read his novels.

The Devil's Star continues the story of police detective Harry Hole, who has been in such other Nesbo novels as The Redbreast and Nemesis. Harry is a mess; he is an alcoholic, too involved in his work (and about to get fired), and these flaws have distanced him from his girlfriend and her young son.

When women are found murdered in Oslo, a serial killer is on the loose, and Hole must work with a detective he believes is involved in the death of his former partner. Her death precipitated his decline, but a serial killer means pulling himself together and finding the killer.

I always say that I learn at least one new thing from every book I read, and in this book, one of the characters, a criminologist, states that
"the most characteristic trait of the serial killer is that he's American."
That made me take notice, and it's really a lousy category in which to be number one.

Nebso writes well and it's not too gory or bloody, thank goodness. The characters are well drawn, especially Hole. The author really nails the effects of alcoholism, the ugliness and desperation of it. You want to root for Hole, and you want to slap him at the same time.

When Harry takes his girlfriend's young son to a place where the serial killer has been, his girlfriend is furious. Harry knows she will be, but it didn't matter.
"He knew he could give her an answer. He could have said that what he was 'doing' was trying to save lives in the city, but even that would have been a lie. The truth was he was 'doing' his own thing and letting everyone else around him pay the price. It had always been like that, and it always would be, and if it happened to save lives, then that was a bonus."
That passage nails the character of Harry in just a few sentences.

The mystery of the story- who is killing these women- is interesting, and Nesbo throws in enough red herrings that when you think you may know whodunnit, another suspect pops up.  The action is well paced, and this book and its characters are very cinematic. It would make a terrific movie.

The setting of Oslo is unique, and it's really another great character in the book.

The Devil's Star is crime fiction at its best; it's literate, and complex, and Harry Hole is a character I want to know more about. Fans of Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly should add Jo Nesbo to their list of authors to read.

Rating 4.5 of 5

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