The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø: A review

I was 19 percent of the way through reading this novel on my Kindle when I realized that I had no idea what was going on. It was a story that switched back and forth between the war years of the 1940s and the rise of neo-fascism in Norway in 1999. Was it all connected somehow? It seemed clear that Jo Nesbø intended that, but it was just hard for me to see. 

I know people who would have given up reading the book at that point, but I am made of sterner stuff! I was determined to see what all the shouting and praise for Nesbø was all about.

I'm glad I persevered. Shortly after scratching my head in confusion at the 19 percent mark, the story actually started to make sense to me and I was able to begin to see the connections between the various characters and their story lines.

We meet Daniel, a young Norwegian soldier in 1944, fighting alongside the Germans against the Russians. He is a legendary sharpshooter. But then he is supposedly killed.

Later, a wounded Norwegian soldier wakes up in a Vienna hospital. During his convalescence from wounds, he becomes involved with a young nurse. The consequences of that liaison will reverberate back in Oslo more than fifty years later.

All those years later, in the 1990s, we meet Harry Hole, a dedicated police officer who seems to have a knack for embarrassing his superiors. In this instance, he has shot a Secret Service agent who was in Oslo guarding the president of the United States who was on a diplomatic mission. The agent had failed to follow protocol and was not identified by Harry as an agent. He thought he presented a threat to the president, so he shot him.

As a "reward" for his actions, Harry has been promoted to inspector and has been given duties to take him out of Oslo and, his superiors hope, to keep him out of trouble and out of the limelight. 

He is assigned to monitor neo-Nazi activities. It all seems fairly boring and mundane until he gets reports of a rare and unusual gun being fired in the area in target practice. It is a gun known to be used by assassins. Suddenly, his duty seems not so mundane after all.

Harry calls on his friends and associates to help in tracing the gun to try to find how it came to Norway and who might have brought it there. In aiding his investigation, his friend and partner Ellen Gjelten makes a startling discovery. It is a discovery that will put her life in danger and will cause anguish for Harry.

In the middle of the investigation, a former soldier is found with his throat cut. But how does all of this tie together? It is a complicated tale and it is often hard to keep it all straight.

In pursuit of answers, Harry travels to South Africa and to Vienna, still trying to trace the gun and to put all the pieces of the story together. But no matter what he does, he always seems to be one step behind in finding the solution to this convoluted mystery.

Harry Hole is a flawed character, an alcoholic whom a tragedy midway through the story sends off the deep end again. He struggles to pull himself together enough to function and to bring some very bad guys to justice. The whole thing has become personal for him.

Jo Nesbø is a good writer and I think I do see what all the shouting is about. In Harry Hole, he had created an appealing protagonist that the reader can empathize with and care about, someone whom we want to see win. 

Nesbø handles an extremely complicated plot with assurance. I may not have known what was going on for a while, but he certainly never lost the thread of his story and in the end we were able to follow that thread.

This was not the first in the Harry Hole series, but I believe it was the first to be translated into English, and it was the first I was able to get delivered to my Kindle. There are several more books in this popular series and I look forward to reading them all.


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