It’s no secret that I’m totally obsessed with Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series. Hole’s a great character that exhibits the classic, noirish detective traits. But then the writing (and thank God, the translation!) is really good, too. And it is also a relief that the mystery reads like a puzzle and not like a thriller. Too many thrillers are mislabeled under the mystery genre. If there isn’t a puzzle, it’s not really a mystery. In a thriller, you may or may not know who the bad guy is– but you, the reader, are going along for the ride with the protagonist. You are a spectator on a roller coaster, so just sit back and enjoy the dips and rushes and thrills, you know? But that’s not a mystery. In a mystery, you are an active participant. There may (and probably should be) thrills, but you aren’t just sitting back and watching. You should be picking up clues, along with the detective. If too much is hidden from the reader, it is unfair, and forces the reader in to the inactive-thriller role.
This particular novel focuses on World War II and Norway’s complicated involvement. It’s very postmodern in that the time switches back and forth rather rapidly, sometimes in very short chapters, and in the case of the chapters taking place in the past, you do not always know who the antagonist is. In this way, the obliteration of identity (and war’s part in that obliteration) also becomes a theme. And the book is loaded with old people– and you don’t really know who they are. This isn’t a spoiler! It’s fairly apparent right away that names and identities don’t always match. I won’t tell you who’s who or who dies– that’s part of the fun, figuring it out along with (and sometimes before!) Harry.
I really enjoyed the historical focus. I’ve been rather fascinated by the Scandinavian countries during World War II because of a story I was trying to write a couple of years ago. While my interest was primarily in Denmark during that time, it was really interesting to read about Norway, too. In fact, if I pick that story up again, maybe I should relocate that character to Norway? The trouble with researching this sort of thing is that most of the literature about the Scandinavian countries during WWII is actually written in their original languages and not English! While I can struggle along in German, there are only bits and bobs that I can understand in other languages– only the bits that are similar to German. So, in a way, this novel is the best thing for my own research. How self serving! Ha!
It is also interesting in that it’s about a bunch of really elderly people. We forget, I think, that the elderly were once young and we tend to think they are innocuous. But (duh) they’re just older. Not necessarily wiser or kinder or smarter or less devious than anybody else in their twenties, thirties, forties, or any other age. It was nice to read about murderous geriatrics. And it was heartwrenching to see them murdered, too. Again, that’s not much of a spoiler. There are usually lots of bodies in a Nesbø book.