The Redbreast

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Great, yet another depressive Scandinavian cop having yet another bleak midwinter. If it feels as if we’ve slogged through an awful lot of increasingly tired Nordic noirs over the past few years, it’s because we have (do not bother with Helen Tursten, for instance). But just when genre fans were starting to migrate toward the exotic climes of Thailand (with John Burdett) or Tibet (with Elliot Pattison), along comes Jo Nesbø, whose Oslo-set The Redbreast transcends its now-familiar setting and characters.

Many expected elements surface: Harry Hole is a cop with a drinking problem and a crush on a seemingly unattainable woman; the plot bounces between WWII and the year 2000, with the 60-year-old events, of course, impacting the current ones. Nothing radical here—the past coughing up nasty hair balls into the present is one of noir’s best-loved ingredients. But every time you think you have a handle on the action, Nesbø throws a wrench in: Someone starts off as a secondary character, gets promoted to lead, then, just as quickly, demoted to dead; someone else is brutally offed right after the discovery of a crucial puzzle piece. It’s manipulative and not all that innovative, and it’s utterly delicious.

The two strands of the narrative eventually join up, as these things are wont to do in thrillers. And yet you never get the feeling Nesbø is writing by the numbers—his sense of pace is unerring, and the way he builds up suspense in parallel montages will incite Pavlovian page-turning. By the end, events happen so quickly that you barely have time to realize that one of the most sinister characters has managed to evade scrutiny. Is a sequel in the air? It can’t come fast enough.

—Elisabeth Vincentelli

By Jo Nesbø. HarperCollins, $24.95.