The Redbreast

Title: The Redbreast

Author: Jo Nesbø

Read by: Robin Sachs

Category: Mystery

Audio published: April 26, 2011 by Random House Audio (first published 2000)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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1944: Daniel, a soldier, legendary among the Norwegians fighting the advance of Bolshevism on the Russian front, is killed. Two years later, a wounded soldier wakes up in a Vienna hospital. He becomes involved with a young nurse, the consequences of which will ripple forward to the turn of the next century.

1999: Harry Hole, alone again after having caused an embarrassment in the line of duty, has been promoted to inspector and is lumbered with surveillance duties. He is assigned the task of monitoring neo-Nazi activities; fairly mundane until a report of a rare and unusual gun being fired sparks his interest. Ellen Gjelten, his partner, makes a startling discovery. Then a former soldier is found with his throat cut. In a quest that takes him to South Africa and Vienna, Harry finds himself perpetually one step behind the killer. He will be both winner and loser by the novel’s nail-biting conclusion.

I’m a little late to the Nesbø party – this is the first I’ve read/listened to, but Harry Hole is the kind of detective I’m attracted to. He’s go issues, including alcoholism, and is one of those tough loner types who probably has trouble with authority, goes his own way but manages to solve the case in the end. Or the case lets him solve it. Harry does seem at the mercy of events sometimes, which I think might be a little more realistic than the usual fictional detective who always asks the right questions, makes the right leaps in logic.

Here the legacy of WW2 is affecting the present, and it’s a tangled story Hole has to work through. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it kept me guessing, even if it was a little tough for me to keep all the Norwegian names straight. It’s a complicated story, with its beginnings in WW2, but twisting and turning through to present-day Norway. It’s about love, and revenge, and loyalty. The story jumps back and forth from 1944 to 1999/2000 and I felt the transitions were clear and flowed well.

There is nothing extraneous to the story, every bit matters, even if it seems off-topic at the time. It’s all connected. I do have to say that there was one event and a series of phone calls that followed it that were just crushing, I have to imagine it would have been more so if I had read the first two in the series first. It’s moments like that that raised it to 4 stars for me. Not the plot or even the characters necessarily, but the writing. It’s better than the standard police procedural; Harry’s more interesting than the usual “damaged” hero.

I listened to this on audio, read by Robin Sachs. I’ve mentioned before that I like listening to foreign mysteries, because of the sounds, the accents, the names that I’m sure I would butcher. Honestly, I forgot about him as a narrator, which to me is a good sign. He blended seamlessly into the story, nothing jarred. He did a good job, I thought.

The story has two major crime lines, one of which is solved, the other is not. Harry is given two months at the end of the book to look into the other case, which I assume is continued in the next in the series. I’m not a fan of cliff-hanger endings, but this lack of resolution didn’t bother me, probably because the one mystery was solved and I’m okay with a series having one arc that continues as long as something is finished at the end of each book.

It’s odd that I just finished listening to this, with its connection to Norway in WW2, including the men who volunteered to fight for Germany and were sent to the Eastern Front, and watched The Monuments Men last weekend, with its distinctive view of WW2. I don’t usually read or watch much having to do with wars, but I enjoyed the bits of history I’ve been learning.

Harry Hole Series

  1. The Bat
  2. The Cockroaches
  3. The Redbreast
  4. Nemesis 
  5. The Devil’s Star
  6. The Redeemer 
  7. The Snowman
  8. The Leopard
  9. Phantom 
  10. Police