Inspector Harry Hole attempts to exonerate his would-be son Oleg in this installment of Jo Nesbø’s New York Times bestselling series. Look out for the latest Harry Hole novel, The Thirst, available now.
When Harry Hole moved to Hong Kong, he thought he was escaping the traumas of his life in Oslo and his career as a detective for good. But now, the unthinkable has happened—Oleg, the boy he helped raise, has been arrested for killing a man. Harry can't believe that Oleg is a murderer, so he returns to hunt down the real killer.
Although he's off the police force, he still has a case to solve that will send him into the depths of the city’s drug culture, where a shockingly deadly new street drug is gaining popularity. This most personal of investigations will force Harry to confront his past and the wrenching truth about Oleg and himself.
About the Author
Jo Nesbø’s books have sold more than eighteen million copies worldwide, and have been translated into forty-seven languages. His previous Harry Hole novels include The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star, The Snowman, and The Leopard, and he is the author of Headhunters and several children’s books. He has received the Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel. He is also a musician, songwriter, and economist and lives in Oslo.
Read an Excerpt
Amid the noises of the night in downtown Oslo—the regular drone of cars outside the window, the distant siren that rose and fell and the church bells that had begun to chime nearby—a rat went on the hunt for food. She ran her nose over the filthy linoleum on the kitchen floor. The pungent smell of gray cigarette ash. The sugary-sweet aroma of blood on a piece of cotton gauze. The bitter odor of beer on the inside of a bottle cap, Ringnes lager. Molecules of sulfur, saltpeter and carbon dioxide filtered up from an empty metal cartridge case designed for a nine-by-eighteen- millimeter lead bullet, also called a Makarov, after the gun to which the caliber was originally adapted. Smoke from a still-smoldering cigarette with a yellow filter and blackpaper, bearing the Russian imperial eagle. The tobacco was edible. And there: a stench of alcohol, leather, grease and asphalt. A shoe. She sniffed it. The obstacle lay on its side with its back to the wall blocking the entrance to the nest, and her eight newly born, blind, hairless babies were screaming ever louder for her milk. The mountain of flesh smelled of salt, sweat and blood. It was a human body. A living human being; her sensitive ears could detect the faint heartbeats between her babies’ hungry squeals.
The church bells were ringing in time with the human heart now. One beat, two. Three, four . . .
The rat bared her teeth.
July. Shit. It sucks to die in July. Is that really church bells I hear, or were there hallucinogens in the damn bullets? OK, so it stops here. And what difference does it make? Here or there. Now or later. But do I really deserve to die in July? With the birds singing, bottles clinking, laughter from down by the Akerselva and fricking summer merriment right outside the window? Do I deserve to be lying on the floor of an infected junkie pit with an extra hole in my body, as life rushes out of it along with flashbacks of everything that’s led me here? Is that me, is that everything, is that my life? I had plans, didn’t I? And now it’s no more than a bag of dust, a joke without a punchline, so short I could have told it before that insane bell stopped ringing. Shit! No one told me it would hurt so much to die. Are you there, Dad? Don’t go, not now. The joke goes like this: My name’s Gusto. I lived to the age of nineteen. You were a bad guy who screwed a bad woman and nine months later I popped out and got shipped to a foster family before I could say “Da-da.” I caused as much trouble as I could. They just wrapped the suffocating care blanket even tighter and asked me what I wanted. A fricking ice cream? They had no goddamn idea that people like you and me would end up shot, exterminated, that we spread contagion and decay and would multiply like rats if we got the chance. They have only themselves to blame. But they also want things. Everyone wants something. I was thirteen the first time I saw in my foster mother’s eyes what she wanted.
“You’re so handsome, Gusto,” she said. She had come into the bathroom—I had left the door open, and hadn’t turned on the shower so that the sound wouldn’t warn her. She stood there for exactly a second too long before going out. And I laughed, because now I knew. That’s my talent, Dad: I can see what people want. Do I take after you? After she left I looked at myself in the full-length mirror. She wasn’t the first to call me handsome. I had developed earlier than the other boys. Tall, tight, already broad-shouldered. Hair so black it gleamed. High cheekbones. Square chin. A big, greedy mouth, but with lips as full as a girl’s. Smooth, tanned skin. Brown, almost black eyes. “The brown rat,” one of the boys in the class called me. Didrik, think that was his name. He was going to be a concert pianist. I’d just turned fifteen, and he said it out loud in class. “That brown rat can’t even read right.”
I just laughed and, of course, I knew why he’d said it. Knew what he wanted. Kamilla. He was secretly in love with her; she was not so secretly in love with me. At a school dance I copped a feel to see what she had under her sweater. Which wasn’t much. I’d mentioned it to a couple of the boys and Didrik must have picked up on it, and decided to shut me out. Not that I gave a shit about being “in,” but bullying is bullying. So I went to Tutu in the motorcycle club, the bikers. I’d dealt some hash for them at school, and said that I needed some respect. Tutu said he’d take care of Didrik. Later Didrik wouldn’t explain to anyone how he got two fingers caught under the top hinge of the boys’ bathroom door, but he never called me a brown rat again. And—right—he never became a concert pianist, either. Shit, this hurts so much! No, I don’t need any consoling, Dad—I need a fix. One last shot and then I’ll leave this world without a peep, I swear. There goes the church bell again. Dad?
It was almost midnight at Gardermoen, Oslo’s principal airport, as Flight SK-459 from Bangkok taxied into its allocated spot by Gate 46. Captain Tord Schultz braked and brought the Airbus 340 to a complete halt; then he quickly switched off the fuel supply. The metallic whine from the jet engines sank through the frequencies to a good-natured growl before dying. Tord Schultz automatically noted the time, three minutes and forty seconds since touchdown, twelve minutes before the scheduled arrival. He and the first officer started the checklist for shutdown and parking, since the plane was to remain there overnight. With the goods. He flicked through the briefcase containing the log. September 2011. In Bangkok it was still the rainy season and had been steaming hot as usual, and he had longed for home and the first cool autumn evenings. Oslo in September. There was no better place on earth. He filled in the form for the remaining fuel. The fuel bill: He had had to find a way of accounting for it. After flights from Amsterdam or Madrid he had flown faster than was economically reasonable, burning off thousands of kroners’ worth of fuel to make it. In the end, his boss had called him on the carpet.
“To make what?” he had yelled. “You didn’t have any passengers with connecting flights!”
“The world’s most punctual airline,” Tord Schultz had mumbled, quoting the advertising slogan.
“The world’s most economically fucked-up airline! Is that the best explanation you can come up with?”
Tord Schultz had shrugged. After all, he couldn’t say the reason—that he had opened the fuel nozzles because there was something he himself had to make. The flight he had been put on, the one to Bergen, Trondheim or Stavanger. It was extremely important that he did the trip and not one of the other pilots.
He was too old for them to do anything else to him but rant and rave. He had avoided making serious errors, the organization took care of him, and there were only a few years left before he reached the two fives, fifty-five, and would be retired, whatever happened. Tord Schultz sighed. A few years to fix things, to avert ending up as the world’s most economically fucked-up pilot.
He signed the log, got up and left the cockpit to flash his row of pearly-white pilot teeth at the passengers. The smile that would tell them that he was Mr. Confidence in person. Pilot: the professional title that had once made him something in other people’s eyes. He had seen it, how people, men and women, young and old, once the magic word pilot had been enunciated, had looked at him and discovered not only the charisma, the nonchalance, the boyish charm, but also the captain’s dynamism and cold precision, the superior intellect and the courage of a man who defied physical laws and the innate fears of mere mortals. But that was a long time ago. Now they regarded him as the bus driver he was and asked him what the cheapest tickets to Las Palmas were, and why there was more leg room on Lufthansa.
To hell with them. To hell with them all.
Tord Schultz stood at the exit next to the flight attendants, straightened up and smiled, said, “Welcome back, miss,” in broad Texan, the way they had learned in flying school at Sheppard. Received a smile of acknowledgment. There had been a time when he could have arranged a meeting in the arrivals hall with such a smile. And indeed had. From Cape Town to Alta. Women. Many women. That had been the problem. And the solution. Women. Many women. New women. And now? His hairline was receding beneath the pilot’s cap, but the tailor-made uniform emphasized his tall, broad-shouldered physique. That was what he had blamed for not getting into fighter jets at flying school, and ending up as a cargo pilot on the Hercules, the workhorse of the sky. He had told them at home he had been a couple of inches too long in the spine, that the cockpits of F-5’s and F-16’s disqualified all but dwarfs. The truth was he hadn’t measured up to the competition. His body was all he had managed to maintain from those times, the only thing that hadn’t fallen apart, that hadn’t crumbled. Like his marriages. His family. Friends. How had it happened? Where had he been when it happened? Presumably in a hotel room in Cape Town or Alta, with cocaine up his nose to compensate for the potency-killing drinks at the bar, and his dick in not such a Welcome-Back-Miss to compensate for everything he was not and never would be.
Tord Schultz’s gaze fell on a man coming toward him down the aisle. He walked with his head bent, yet still he towered over the other passengers. He was slim and broad-shouldered like himself. Younger, though. Cropped blond hair stood up like a brush. Looked Norwegian, but was hardly a tourist on his way home, more likely to be an expat with the subdued, almost gray tan typical of whites who had spent a long time in Southeast Asia. The indisputably tailor-made brown linen suit gave an impression of quality, seriousness. Maybe a businessman. Thanks to a not- altogether-thriving concern, he traveled economy class. But it was neither the suit nor his height that had caused Tord Schultz’s gaze to fix on this person. It was the scar. It started at the left corner of his mouth and almost reached his ear, like a smile-shaped sickle. Grotesque and wonderfully dramatic.
Tord Schultz was startled, but did not manage to respond before the man had passed and was out of the plane. The voice had been rough and hoarse, which together with the bloodshot eyes, suggested he had just woken up.
The plane was empty. The minibus with the cleaning staff stood parked on the runway as the crew left in a herd. Tord Schultz noticed that the small, thickset Russian was the first off the bus, watched him dash up the steps in his yellow high-visibility vest with the company logo, Solox.
Tord Schultz’s brain repeated the words as he strode down the corridor to the flight crew center.
“Didn’t you have a little carry-on up top?” asked one of the flight attendants, pointing to Tord’s rolling Samsonite suitcase. He couldn’t remember what her name was. Mia? Maja? At any rate he had fucked her during a stopover once last century. Or had he?
“No,” Tord Schultz said.
See you. As in “See you again”? Or as in “I can see you’re looking at me”?
They walked past the partition by the entrance to the flight crew center, where in theory there was room for a jack- in-the-box customs officer. Ninety-nine percent of the time the seat behind the partition was empty, and he had never—not once in the thirty years he had worked for the airline—been stopped and searched.
As in “I can see you, all right.” And “I can see who you are.”
Tord Schultz hurried through the door to the center.
As usual, Sergey Ivanov ensured that he was the first off the minibus when it stopped on the tarmac beside the Airbus, and sprinted up the steps to the empty plane. He took the vacuum cleaner into the cockpit and locked the door behind him. He slipped on latex gloves and pulled them up to where the tattoos started, flipped the front lid off the vacuum and opened the captain’s locker. Lifted out the small Samsonite carry-on, unzipped it, removed the metal plate at the bottom and checked the four bricklike one-kilo packages. Then he put them into the vacuum cleaner, pressing them into position between the tube and the large cleaner bag he had made sure to empty beforehand. Clicked the front lid back, unlocked the cockpit door and activated the vacuum cleaner. It was all done in seconds.
After tidying and cleaning the cabin they ambled off the plane, stowed the light-blue garbage bags in the back of the Daihatsu and went back to the lounge. There were only a handful of planes landing and taking off before the airport closed for the night. Ivanov glanced over his shoulder at Jenny, the shift manager. He gazed at the computer screen that showed arrival and departure times. No delays.
“I’ll take Bergen,” Sergey said in his harsh accent. At least he spoke the language; he knew Russians who had lived in Norway for ten years and were still forced to resort to English. But when Sergey had been brought in almost two years ago, his uncle had made it clear he was to learn Norwegian, and had consoled him by saying that he might have some of his own talent for picking up languages.
“I’ve got Bergen covered,” Jenny said. “You can wait for Trondheim.”
“I’ll do Bergen,” Sergey said. “Nick can do Trondheim.”
Jenny looked at him. “As you like. Don’t work yourself to death, Sergey.”
Sergey went to a chair by the wall and sat down. Leaned back carefully. The skin around his shoulders was still sore from where the Norwegian tattooist had been plying his trade. He was working from drawings Sergey had been sent by Imre, the tattooist in the Nizhny Tagil prison, and there was still quite a bit left to do. Sergey thought of the tattoos his uncle’s lieutenants, Andrey and Peter, had. The pale-blue strokes on the skin of the two Cossacks from Altai told of their dramatic lives and great deeds. But Sergey had a feat to his name as well. A murder. It was a little murder, but it had already been tattooed in the form of an angel. And perhaps there would be another murder. A big one. If the necessary became necessary, his uncle had said, and warned him to be ready, mentally prepared, and to keep up his knife practice. A man was coming, he had said. It wasn’t absolutely certain, but it was probable.
Sergey Ivanov regarded his hands. He had kept the latex gloves on. Of course it was a coincidence that their standard work gear also ensured that he would not leave any fingerprints on the packages if things should go wrong one day. There wasn’t a hint of a tremble. His hands had been doing this for so long that he had to remind himself of the risk now and then to stay alert. He hoped they would be as calm when the necessary—chto nuzhno—had to be performed. When he had to earn the tattoo for which he had already ordered the design. He conjured up the image again: him unbuttoning his shirt in the sitting room at home in Tagil, with all his urka brothers present, and showing them his new tattoos. Which would need no comment, no words. So he wouldn’t say anything. Just see it in their eyes: He was no longer Little Sergey. For weeks he had been praying at night that the man would come. And that the necessary would become necessary.
The message to clean the Bergen plane crackled over the walkietalkie.
Sergey got up. Yawned.
The procedure in the second cockpit was even simpler.
Open the vacuum cleaner, put the contents in the carry-on in the first officer’s locker.
On their way out they met the crew on their way in. Sergey Ivanov avoided the first officer’s eyes, looked down and noted that he had the same kind of wheeling suitcase as Schultz did. Samsonite Aspire GRT. Same red. Without the little red carry-on that could be fastened to it on top. They knew nothing of each other, nothing of motivations, nothing of the background or the family. All that linked Sergey, Schultz and the young first officer were the numbers of their unregistered cell phones, purchased in Thailand, so they could send a text in case there were changes to the schedule. Andrey limited all information to a strictly need-to-know basis. For that reason, Sergey didn’t have a clue what happened to the packages. He could guess, though. For when the first officer, on an internal flight between Oslo and Bergen, passed from air to land, there was no customs check, no security check. The officer took the carry-on to the hotel in Bergen where he and the crew were staying. A discreet knock on the hotel door in the middle of the night and four kilos of heroin exchanged hands. Even though the new drug, violin, had pushed down heroin prices, the going rate on the street for a quarter was still at least 250 kroner. A thousand a gram. Given that the drug—which had already been diluted—was diluted once more, that would amount to eight million kroner in total. He could do the math. Enough to know he was underpaid. But he also knew he would have done enough to merit a bigger slice when he had done the necessary. And after a couple of years on that salary he could buy a house in Tagil, find himself a good-looking Siberian girl and perhaps let his mother and father move in when they got old.
Sergey Ivanov felt the tattoo itch between his shoulder blades.
It was as though the skin were looking forward to the next installment.
What People are Saying About This
“Intricate, breakneck plotting makes for an addictive page-turner in Phantom . . . Brings to mind Michael Connelly’s tortured LAPD detective Harry Bosch.” —Los Angeles Times
“The Oslo depiction adds a contemporary heft to Phantom that expands Nesbø’s reach . . . Suggests more than a few parallels to the great television series ‘The Wire’; perhaps it is one master’s nod to another.” —Boston Globe
“Phantom will maintain Jo Nesbø’s unstoppable momentum.” —The Independent (UK)
“Easily the most troubling and heartfelt of this excellent series, Phantom is one of the finest suspense novels to come out of Scandinavia to date.” —BookPage
“Nesbø’s true subject is the deterioration of the social fabric that has made Oslo such a civilized place.” —New York Times Book Review
“A compulsive page-turner . . . [Phantom] is expertly plotted and structured, with all the requisite twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. The latter half of the book is also relentlessly paced, reading at times like a Scandinavian police version of the Jason Bourne series.” —The Independent on Sunday (UK)
“Far more than a procedural . . . Personal and topical and hip, as usual.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Nesbø has written a cunningly constructed thriller . . . running at Hollywood summer blockbuster speed.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Superb on every level . . . Nesbø begins with an emotionally gripping family drama but surrounds it with an elaborate, beautifully constructed plot involving [a] new drug and the ruthless man who rules its distribution. The subplots, plot twists (especially the last one), and the fully fleshed supporting characters—many of whom could drive their own novels—are all testament to Nesbø’s remarkable talent, but finally, it all comes back to Harry and the pain he endures in trying to carve out a separate peace from a world and a past that won’t let him go.” —Booklist (starred)
“A first-class thriller . . . Contains several twists, some of which will make you gasp and at least one of which will make you cry . . . Phantom is Nesbø’s finest novel, a novel for grown-ups, which triumphantly proves, as Harry says, that ‘humans are a perverted and damaged species and there is no cure, only relief.’” —Evening Standard (UK)
“Deeply moving . . . This is Harry’s most personal case.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Norwegian crime fiction writer Nesbø is one of the best . . . Oslo’s gritty and violent drug world is brought to life through the characters. The fast-paced plots are twisted and riveting, and the two stories collide to reveal a shocking climax. Nesbø is on par with the original Scandinavian duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, authors of the Martin Beck series.” —Library Journal
“The internationally popular detective series by the Norwegian author builds to a blockbuster climax [in Phantom] . . . Those hooked by [The Snowman] or earlier ones should make their way here as quickly as they can . . . Devastating for protagonist and reader alike.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Phantom is an astoundingly good novel. Nesbø has done it again.” —Trouw (Netherlands)
“Another excellent example of why Nesbø has such a firm grasp on the Nordic crime crown . . . Nesbø’s portrait of venality and corruption is bleakly angry, his peek beneath Oslo’s gleaming façade disturbing; a fascination with addiction adds to his writing’s unsettling intensity. But he doesn’t let this overwhelm a tightly coiled plot.” —Metro (UK)
“Once again Nesbø demonstrates that he is a crime writer of absolute world class . . . You will understand what I mean when you read Phantom. And please do, this is a masterpiece of the genre. Jo Nesbø just gets better and better.” —Västerbottens Folkblad (Sweden)
“Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect Nesbø to reach the dizzying heights of his two previous books, The Snowman and The Leopard. How wrong I was. Phantom is arguably a much better book than any previous instalments. Nesbø wrings out the tension, by turns painful and delicious, with consummate skill. The surprises come like an avalanche as the end nears, engulfing everything in its path.” —Daily Express (UK)
“Nesbø is one of the best suspense writers in the world and this novel fully confirms that claim . . . Suspenseful, moving, well written and impossible to put down . . . I just can’t recommend this enough.” —Litteratursiden.dk (Denmark)
“A brilliant thriller rife with exciting twists by one of the best Scandinavian crime authors.” —Bücher (Germany)
“Extremely thrilling!” —Die Zeit (Germany)
“Harry’s most lethally gripping and personal journey to date.” —The Mirror (UK)
“Phantom must be the crime novel of the year. There is no one better or even equal to Jo Nesbø in Scandinavian crime fiction.” —Weekendavisen (Denmark)
“Jo Nesbø is a master of his craft. His latest novel, Phantom, is world-class crime writing.” —Dagbladet (Norway)
Chain Reactions: Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Jo Nesbø
Over the course of the last few years, Scandinavian novelists have begun dominating the crime-writing scene. Some of it has to do with the enormous popularity of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. But even the number of Larsson fans who picked up another Scandinavian writer to prolong the excitement they'd experienced with Lisbeth Salander cannot, by itself, account for the proliferation and growing popularity of writers who range from Sweden's Henning Mankell to Denmark's Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis. By far the most successful (and praised) among them in the U.S. is Jo Nesbø, creator of the Oslo police detective Harry Hole. Harry is, like all good detective heroes, forever butting heads with his superiors. He's also a drunk who, unlike other alcoholic series detectives (Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder and James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux come to mind), never goes decisively on the wagon.
The Oslo that Harry traverses has never been as dark as in the latest Nesbø novel to hit these shores, Phantom. Harry, no longer a cop and now working in Hong Kong, returns to the city because Oleg, the son of the woman he loves and who has always regarded Harry as his father, is jailed, accused of a drug murder. As Nesbø explains in this interview, Harry's mission is not so much to find the truth as to get his boy out of jail.
Nesbø's visit to the East Coast of the United States was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy. A week after we were supposed to sit down to talk in New York City, we caught up via phone.Charles Taylor
The Barnes & Noble Review: It seems every few years some country becomes the focus of crime writing. A few years ago it was Scotland with tartan noir. And really in America in the last few years, it's Scandinavian crime writers. Do you have any idea why that is? Jo Nesbø: I can only hope that it has something to do with the quality of the writing. But that's been going on for a long time, that you have this tradition of many storytellers in Scandinavia that use the crime novel as a vehicle. Ever since the '70s, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were the godfathers of Scandinavian crime. They broke the crime novel in Scandinavia from the kiosks and into the serious bookstores. So, hopefully it might have to do with that, just that there are so many crime writers and some of them, not all of them, but some of them are good.
BNR: Do you think that you and your colleagues offer a darker strain of crime fiction? Because I believe you do.
JN: I can't speak for the other writers, you know, where they have their inspiration. But myself, I'm probably influenced by being a musician and Henrik Ibsen. With the geography, with the long winters. But also, you know, growing up in the '60s and the '70s in Norway, I've been exposed to American culture. And my father and my grandparents came from the United States, so I'm thinking maybe a little bit more than other Scandinavian writers, I'm probably influenced by American culture. Although I mean, Norway, being a nation that had so much emigration to the United States and also people coming back, it sometimes feels like another American state. Also Norway, where it's coastal, where I grew up, it's close to England.
BNR: When you say American culture, I'd assume we're talking about music as well as literature?
BNR: And you're a musician. You have a band, is that right?
BNR: What's the band's name?
JN: The band's name is Eieerre, and it means something like "Those Guys."
BNR: [laughs] Okay. And how would you describe the sound of the band?
JN: I'm not sure if I could do that in a way that would make sense to an American audience. It's a Norwegian folk music meets zydeco meets rock 'n' roll meets pop.
BNR: [laughs] Okay, all right. Well, that sounds like a description we can work with. I don't know how you got involved in writing. You started off in a field quite different, isn't that correct? JN: Well, the short version. At nineteen I was pretty sure I was going to be a professional soccer player. At that time I played for one of the Norwegian premier leagues. But I tore ligaments in both knees, so I started studying business administration and economics and became a financial analyst, and I worked at a brokerage firm as a stockbroker. And at the same time, I had formed my own band. And when I got to Oslo, I formed another band, and we recorded first one album and then we had a big breakthrough with our second album.
So you know the rest of the band, they were full-time musicians, and I was, you know, the one who had a day job. But for some reason I insisted on keeping on as a stockbroker. I needed that sort of normalcy of going back to a job on Monday morning. It was a crazy combination. At the end of that year, we had done 180 gigs with the band while I was still working as a stockbroker. I was the singer and the songwriter in the band, so you would think that at least I would do it full time, but at the end of that year I was just so tired of playing and working that I had to take six months off. And I told my band and the boss at the brokerage firm that I'm going to Australia to do something completely different. So I brought a laptop to Australia, and that was where I wrote my first novel.
BNR: You wanted the normalcy of the stockbroker's jobis your writing routine very disciplined?
JN: It is. When I got back from Australia, I knew that I had to write. I would quit the job at the brokerage when I got back. And I also told my band that I didn't want to go touring for a long, long time. So for the next couple of years I was mainly a writer. But I was a bit worried. I didn't want my music to be the thing that paid the rent because I didn't see myself as a musician. And I was afraid that I would have to sort of compromise in order to make a living as a musician. And I didn't want that.
So I'd rather have a job that paid the rent and then play, just play the music that I wanted to play. But as a writer at that time, I figured I made enough money as a musician and as a stockbroker so I didn't have any financial worries for the next ten years. So, I figured, okay, I'll just write anything I want to write. I'll be this struggling writer for the next ten years. That was my plan. And I was a bit worried that I wouldn't get up in the morning, that I would start drinking too much and living an unhealthy life. But what happened was that the privilege of spending so much time writing, I knew every morning I would just get up and I would work far more as a writer than I had as a stockbroker.
BNR: You're speaking about discipline and how it felt good to you. I'm also interested in your mentioning Ibsen, which would suggest to me that you're fastidious about what you introduce into the novels, that you're making sure what you're giving us is something that's going to be used. Is that fair?
JN: Yes. I think so. Actually, I think that Ibsen is great for crime writers to read because he was in many ways one of the first crime writers. What he would do in his plays is of course having something happen and then that will lead to a chain reaction where the truth is bit by bit being revealed. And those are often dark family secrets. The nature of Scandinavians is that they don't talk so much, there will be these dark secrets, and most things are under-communicated. So in that way, I think Henrik Ibsen was a crime writer.
BNR: It's certainly true in Phantom, where we keep returning to the flashbacks, and what we're learning in the flashbacks is ahead of what Harry is learning. And finally the flashbacks complete the story. So there's an example of what you're talking about. JN: Phantom was for me an interesting technique of telling the story. You have one voice that it is in the present telling what is happening, and then there's one voice from the past that's also driving the story forward. And you know that the two story lines will meet eventually. If you only have that voice in the present, you're not sure that you get to know the whole truth. But since you have that voice from the past, you know that you will find out what happened. But you also know that it doesn't necessarily mean that Harry is going to find out what happened.
BNR: How would you describe your relationship to Harry? Do you feel he's your surrogate, or do you feel a little more removed from him than that? In crime fiction we always seem to wonder how close the author is to his or her detective.
JN: And I think that sometimes the writer is wondering about the same thing. Because when I started writing about Harry, I certainly didn't plan for him to have anything to do with me and my life. But looking back, it's sometimes strange because you can see how you're using more and more of yourself in the main character. They say that every writer is writing about himself or herself, and I think that is probably true, whether they want it or not. And at least for me, I can see, not at the time of writing but later in hindsight. The things that are going on in Harry's life mirror what's been going on in my life. I probably do use more of myself in my main character than I've planned. It just happens in the process because he is your eyes and ears into the story.
BNR: Harry's relationship with alcohol is, as far as I can tell, unique. We've had series detectives with drinking problems before, but at some point they seem to lick it. There are the Scudder books by Lawrence Block, and the James Lee Burke Dave Robicheaux novels. What I find interesting about Harry's on-and- off drinking is that you are not judgmental at all.
JN: Yes, well to me it's as simple as needing to make a more interesting story. Storytelling is all about conflict. Like in an Ibsen play again. In every scene there must be a conflict. And I think that Harry...his struggles will of course be with the world, will be with the killer trying to flee or not wanting to be found. That is the obvious conflict in any crime novel. But you also have to have a conflict on the inner level. And to me Harry's fight with alcoholism is sort of a symbol of Harry's fight with the world and with himself, with his other self. Because you know, the story, the way I see it, is always about the main character's internal self, whether it's going to heaven or hell. Harry's fight with alcohol has to do also with a moral choice. Alcohol is just a symbol. To me, alcohol is Harry's Kryptonite.
BNR: Harry goes through some profound changes in Phantom. How did you make those decisions about what happens to Harry in the book?
JN: In the previous book, The Leopard, Harry is going home because his father is dying. So it's a book about, among other things, the father-son relationship, and in that book Harry is the son. But in this book we meet Harry as father and Oleg is the son. He has made a choice coming back to Oslo to investigate this case where Oleg is in jail as if he doesn't have a choice. You have a feeling that he wished that he didn't have to come back home. But his job in this book is not as a police officer, it's as a father. His only mission is to get Oleg out of jail, whether he did commit the murder or not. That is for me the biggest. He's not out for justice. He's just out to save his boy.
BNR: You're talking about things like redemption and the soul of the character and in some waysand I mean this as a complimentin some ways that might strike some as old- fashioned preoccupations to have in contemporary fiction.
BNR: Earlier you talked about your coming from a culture where crime fiction has been used to address other things while still working as crime fiction. I'm going to let you answer this any way you can, but I'll break it into two parts: Is crime fiction the way that literature now deals with social and moral questions? And is it necessary for literature to have a moral component or, frankly, to characterize the language you're using, a spiritual component?
JN: Well, I think it's interesting that a couple of years ago, there was a literature festival in Norway where crime fiction was being criticized because it wasn't dealing with social issues the way it used to do. It had become less political, and it didn't address problems in society. And for me it was interesting that that was sort of a mandate that crime fiction had. I realized that as crime writers we had this mandate to address society, which was our responsibility and not the responsibility of the rest of the literature field. And it's sort of a normal request to have that mandate and in another way it's strange that just thirty, forty years ago what was considered pulp fiction has now taken up the role that the big important writers earlier in the century had.
And I do think that it is interesting that the crime novel also has taken over the role that religious writing used to have, that used to deal with moral questions about wrong and right. Of course that sort of literature doesn't exist any longer. But this literature that used to be purely entertainment, and still is mainly entertainment, is the literature interested in moral questions, what is wrong and right, while the rest of literature is sort of describing society but doesn't necessarily have a strong viewpoint, or doesn't havewhat's the word in Englishit's descriptive but not normative. While crime writers are more normative in their way of writing and storytelling.
BNR: So when a detective, or anyone else in the novel, when their flesh is in peril, it's their soul that's in peril.
JN: Hmm, yeah.
BNR: If someone who reads your novels has never been to Oslo, how close to the real thing is the vision they are going to get of Oslo? Some of the stuff, especially in Phantom, especially about the drug hangouts, I could think of parallels for in '70s New York.
JN: Yeah, I just spoke to Paul Auster about New York in the '70s. That really interests me. I wish I was there in the '70s and he told me, no, you probably don't.
BNR: I think he's probably right.
JN: You know, the New York of the '70s, of the movies during the '70s and in novels like The Basketball Diaries. I'm just curious about that, because it's such a bleak, dark city at that time. I guess I do draw ideas, talking about inspiration for the Oslo that I describe in the Harry Hole series, because ever since the '70s Oslo has been one of the biggest drug cities in Europe where you had the highest number of deaths from overdoses. But then again, it's probably not the Oslo that you will see as a tourist in Oslo, mostly seeing the city at the daytime and hopefully avoiding neighborhoods where you have the prostitution and drug scene. Although if you were to go looking for it, it's not hard to find. It's in the midst of Oslo. The Oslo after dark that I've described is there. But I do add fiction, so it's a bit twisted, it's a bit darker. Just like Gotham City is a version of New York City.
November 29, 2012
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was my first Harry Hole novel and I must say it was very good. Nice plot twists and plenty of realistic drama.
Marvelously woven plot. Less 'fictional' than what the real drug underworld is probably all about. Readers with personal or family addiction issues should beware of the extremely dark and cruel reminders of the effect of the disease. Highly recommended if you can detach from the subject matter.
If you like dark, tightly written mystery/police procedural novels,especially Scandanavian ones, you will enjoy this. If you've never read any of the books in Jo Nesbo's carefully plotted Harry Hole series, I'd recommend that you read them in order. However, each of the novels stands alone. The translation from Nesbo's native Norwegian is into "British" English so there are a couple of quirky wordings but they don't diminish the work and sometimes add to its appeal.
Complex crime novel deals with drug and alcohol abuse on a very personal level. Dark, believable story that pulls no punches.
In the three years since the conclusion of “The Leopard,” Harry Hole has been serving contentedly as a non-violent enforcer based in Hong Kong, collecting money owed to his employer. Then one day, he ups and returns to Oslo when he learns that Oleg, the drug-using son of the love of his life, has been arrested for the murder of a fellow junkie. The police consider the case closed, so Harry acts independently to investigate. And along the way he finds himself immersed in the midst of Norway’s large drug problem. Hole uncovers a trail of violence and disappearances, police and political corruption, and Harry himself becomes a target of the mysterious drug lord Dubai. The novel is a bleak story of damaged individuals hooked on drugs, and the sleaziness inherent in the activity. The prior novels were forceful, clearly showing Harry’s tortured soul, and his unswerving ability to dig, dig, dig to the heart of a case, honestly and insightfully. “Phantom” accomplishes these ends, but to some extent is confusing at the end; whether the author did this purposely or not yet remains to be seen. As usual, the novel is translated faithfully and excellently, and the book is recommended.
If you are a fan of Harry Hole series, this latest book will not disappoint. It has a very surprising ending which makes me hope there will be another book soon.
Having read quite a few of Jo Nesbo's books, this one starts out more gently. Some just assault you right off the bat. It will grip out, however and bring Harry Hole back onto the scene. You will get reacquainted with his lady love. This one deals with drug trafficking. If you haven't read his novels before, you might want to get a couple of the older Harry Hole mysteries and this one, so you can get to know the character.
Loved the book! I have been following Harry Hole series since the Bat. Can't wait to see what happens next - it can't be over!
As good as it gets although sometimes you do wish that Harry could find happiness. Still the ending surprised me, I will be disappointed when the series ends but I expect that Nesbo will come up with something equally great.
Well I don't want to give anything away! This one is surprising and I really had no idea how it was going to end. As always, the Harry Hole novels are great page turners.
Jo Nesbo's books always have interesting information, characters, and plot twists. Some things you can see coming but others are a surprise. You want to see how things are resolved once the story begins.
slow reading. Hard to keep track of what is happening. Lost interest.
A moving story of a former cop and step father trying to save his own from the all consuming drug culture in Oslo, Norway. Its sometimes hard to identify the good guys and nobody wins.
With all the previous reviews, there's no reason to outline the plot and risk spoiling the surprising ending (if that truly is the ending). Phantom continues the line of Scandinavian detective novels featuring world weary, scarred (literally and figuratively in this case), psychologically impaired, but brilliant and dogged detectives willing to cut through bureaucratic and legalistic obstacles in the pursuit of the guilty party. All this takes place in the bracing and oft gloomy weather patterns of northern Europe, specifically Oslo. The pattern is consistent with the genre. A thrilling and enticing introduction, a somewhat belabored middle section as clues and false trails are planted and interspersed with periodic suspense, and a final rush of a "don't put this book down" climax, but here, interestingly, an ambiguous ending. To me, that's a good thing, as pat resolutions can be unsatisfying. Nesbo fans will enjoy this well written novel.
This book was great! I did not see the ending coming! This author is one of my favorites. Every time I thought I got the plot figured out I was wrong. I loved it!
Not as good as his previous books featuring Harry Hole
Almost a 5 ! One of Nesbo's best. He breaks the mold in a couple of ways, one of which works, but another doesn't. Harry is back......He's been away for three years, called back by a friend who tells him of a crisis for someone near and dear. So Harry doesn't exactly resume his police duties, he's still somewhat on leave, but he has lots of contacts who owe him favors and lots of friends willing to bend the rules, so he's a total lone wolf in this one. It's all about drugs, specifically a new super drug making its debut in Norway. And it's about addictions, and what people are willing to surrender for their addictions. Harry's been clean for 3 years.....will he stay clean? And then there's Rakel, yes Rakel is also back but with a new guy, to whom Harry turns for help, again and again. No surprise, there is the usual Nesbo thing of resolving the case with 100-150 pages left. No problem. I loved it until the last 5 pages, then it nosedived into a series of cliffhangers, at least two too many. If you're into "The Perils of Pauline", you'll rate the Phantom 5 stars - I'm not and I didn't. To Be Continued.
Reason for Reading: Next in the series.Wow! I hardly know what to say about the 9th Harry Hole book. It is dark, gritty and goes to depths of unbelievable character with the main character in this series. The story is action-packed, full of twists, and shocker upon shocker, one of which will leave you numb; it is so unexpected and incredible. This book is equal parts personal story and the actual mystery case. They are so intertwined that it's impossible to separate the two. DO NOT read this book, if you have not read any other Harry Hole books. These books are recommended to be read in order as Harry develops as a character and his life is part of a continuing story that runs through the books. That said I haven't read two of the earlier books, or the two not yet released in English, The Bat is coming in Oct 2012 to the UK (which means Canada, too!) but my recommendation is that at least "The Snowman" onwards must be read in order or you'll miss a great connection between the storylines.This book is just absolutely fantastic. At just over 450 pgs, I had the book read in 2 days because I just could not put the thing down. If you are a Harry Hole fan, get yourself caught up with the series and READ THIS BOOK! Tremendous! Very dark throughout with a dark ending but this is what Harry Hole fans expect. Looking at Nesbo's website, he doesn't have any new titles in the works at the moment but fortunately, I have a few back titles left still to read and he has a few other books that have not been translated into English yet either including a short children's novel, a non-fiction title, and a short story collection (yes!). Can we have these too please, Mr & Mrs Publishers?!
I loved The Snowman and couldn't believe Nesbo could come up with something even better than that but he has managed it, at least for me. Harry Hole has returned after 3 years spent in Hong Kong and this case is personal for him. On the surface Oslo looks different, not as many druggies on the corners, not as many pushers readily apparent. Yet this is all an illusion and what follows is a journey through the dark underbelly of city infused with a new drug called Violin. Loved how Harry is referred to when he first makes his appearance and the masterful way different strings of a plot are all pulled together. Harry himself is so unique and the tension and action in this novel never lets up. Wonderful read!
Harry Hole returns in Jo Nesbo's latest North American release - Phantom. If this is a new to you series, I wouldn't recommend starting with Phantom. To truly appreciate Harry, you need to hop on at the beginning of the series - and get ready for a heck of a ride. If you've been following this series, then it's one you definitely don't want to miss. Harry Hole is one of the most tortured, conflicted, complicated protagonists in crime fiction. He's been away from Norway for the last three years in an attempt to clean himself up and step away from his relationship with Rakel. But what brings him back is murder, of course. Rakel's son Oleg has been charged with the murder of Gusto, a known drugs pusher. The evidence is damning, but Harry knows that the gentle little boy he watched grow could not be guilty of such a crime. Harry approaches his old department, but they have no interest in either reopening the case or having Harry back on board. So, Harry being Harry, he decides to investigate on his own. His inquiries catch the eye of the drug trade, in particular the mysterious Dubai, who runs an insidious new product called Violin. Corrupt individuals on the police force and in the political theatre aren't happy with Harry's investigation either. Harry is creating problems and needs to be eliminated. It's just a matter of who gets him first....... " You can't stop this Harry. It's all happened. It has to run its course. If you get in the way, more will die....It's too big, Harry. It'll swallow you up, swallow everyone up." Phantom is a stark, bleak tale. Drugs and the resulting carnage wreaked on individuals and society figures prominently. Nesbo's prose conjure up a bleak, barren wasteland where need trumps everything. We learn the story behind Gusto's death and Oleg's involvement in interspersed chapters, as Guston lays dying. The more Harry learns, the more he refuses to be stopped, seemingly on a mission to save both Oleg and himself. "A curse lay over it. Over him. But it wouldn't have made any difference. He had been cursed long before the knife appeared. And the curse was worse than any knife. It said that his love was a plague he carried around with him...all those who had allowed themselves to be loved by Harry had been made to pay." Nesbo explores relationships in Phantom, giving us another glimpse into this tormented protagonist. Nesbo has crafted a complex plot that kept me guessing right up to the end - the explosive, didn't see it coming, omg ending....
An interestingly structured, but very noir book, with the dominant narrator a boy who is already dead. And a rat with a problem.Harry Hole is a very changed person physically, with a titanium finger to replace one lost in THE SNOWMAN, and a dreadful scar on one side of his face. He has returned to Oslo because of a newspaper report he read and a suspicion about the identity of the perpetrator of a murder. When he tries to get a job in the police he is told the case he wants is already solved and so he goes it alone, calling in favours, going right to the top, and uncovering a drugs network to top them all.Inevitably he contacts Rakel, the love of his life, but he also realises there is no going back, there is only the future. But do they really have one? Not in Norway it seems.I struggled to get into this book and then to bring all the strands together. I'm still not sure that I have the definitive grip on who did what and why. It seemed to me to be bleaker and darker, if that is possible, than earlier novels.
Harry Hole, grew tired of his life in Oslo. His life working homicide for the police and the people he saw touched and destroyed by events. For three years he lived and worked in Hong Kong, getting individuals to pay their debts on time for his employer. When he learns that the Oleg, the son of Rakel, his one true love, and a boy he had helped raise for many years has been accused of murder he returns to Norway to clear his name. Harry no longer has the protection of his badge, but he still has a few loyal friends and some individuals who owe him favors. Working his way into the violent drug culture in the streets of his hometown, Harry finds that there are few people he can trust and a number of people who don't like his snooping into things. Told from several different perspectives, including that of the murder victim as he lays dying the story reveals a history of deception and greed. Nesbo once again writes a brilliant, if brutal, tale of a Norway we don't see promoted to tourists and perhaps ignored by those who actually live there. The Harry Hole books are international bestsellers for a reason and Nesbo been nominated and received so many awards.
Name: Look up. Age: Eh. Around 25-30. Race: Argonian (You know. The lizard looking race from The Elder Scrolls?) Looks: Black scales, a line of black feathers on the back of his head, red eyes, reptile teeth, snout and tail, raspy voice. Attire: Dragon scale or Deadric full armor minus the helmet. Weapon: Ebony (not wooden but extremly powerful.) Greatsword and Ebony bow. Cool facts: Dragonborn. A soul of a dragon in the body of a mortal. He can perform thu'ums. Meaning that if he shouts three words in dragonic, some powerful or useful effect takes place (fus ro dah (force balence push)= object flies miles away.). There is no possible way to deflect or dodge a shout. He also breaths underwater as a natural ablite. Making him great for ambushes. History: A former Dark Brotherhood (another assasin group (still can't spell it.)) member, he quit in search for a group with a higher pay and more respect. He knew everyone was jealous of him because he was the best in the Dark Brotherhood. Now he's here. Something else you should know: He works well with someone else to help. And he's also good with healing certain wounds.
I've read all the Harry Hole novels and this is my least favorite. To say they are getting more and more depressing is an understatement. Evidently, nobody can be happy in Nesbo's world. I found myself having to reread parts and go back and forth a few times in order to attempt to keep the characters straight. By the end, other than the obvious, I truly don't know what happened. I turned the page and the book was over. I definitely do not think one could read this book and make any sense of it without having previously read the series, or at least the few books before this one. I disagree with reviewers who state it can stand on its own. I will read the next book in the series hoping it won't be the last I purchase.