Oslo detective takes on criminals and corrupt cops in noir page-turner

Los Angeles TimesNovember 10, 2012 

"Phantom" by Jo Nesbo.

  • Fiction Phantom Jo Nesbo Knopf, 400 pages

Jo Nesbo’s crime thrillers have sold more than 10 million copies in Europe and the U.S., and call to mind Michael Connelly’s tortured LAPD detective Harry Bosch.

Like Bosch, Nesbo’s detective Harry Hole, who is featured in nine books, including his latest, “Phantom,” is an obsessive, depressive, combative, hard-drinking genius who views his city through bleak eyes even as he sacrifices his own sanity and relationships to save it.

His city is Oslo, a dark and decaying place where drug addicts and murderers roam with impunity and the police force is too corrupt or politicized or stupid to do anything about it.

By the time “Phantom” begins, Hole has retired and moved to Hong Kong to try to sober up. But of course, he comes back. Oleg, the son of his one true love, is in jail for murder. Hole wants to find out whether the boy really did it, and whether there is more to the story.

He turns up in a linen suit and goes straight to a seedy hotel in a rundown part of town, where his interaction with the desk clerk is part comedy, part existential crisis.

Asked to fill in his date of birth on a registration form, Hole muses: “He had always liked fixed routines, discipline, order. So why had his life been chaos instead, such self-destruction and a series of broken relationships between dark periods of intoxication? The blank boxes looked up at him questioningly, but they were too small for the answers they required.”

Some readers will feel such prose amounts to a petty crime. But even many of them will be helpless in the face of Nesbo’s brilliant, breakneck plotting, which sends Hole back and forth across Oslo, unraveling an intricate series of clues about the city’s drug trade and its police force, which is as corrupt as ever.

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