Scandinavian pentagrams (Jo Nesbø)
Satanism and pentagrams figure in both books in a specific, highly similar way, and not just as a plot element. The authors' use of satanic motifs says much about their attitudes toward religion and evil in their own countries, it seems to me, and I'll hope to ask Helene Tursten about this in Toronto in two weeks. I'll refrain from saying more, lest I give away plot elements, but I invite comment from anyone who has read both novels. And if you haven't read them, then do so.
Nesbø's Harry Hole is an alcoholic Oslo police detective called in to work a murder case only because so many of his colleagues are out sick or on summer holidays (the weather is just one of several familiar elements that Nesbø uses in odd and unexpected ways. Steaming streets. Fraying tempers. Long, hot summers. You've seen it before, but in Scandinavia?) Hole has come close to drinking his way off the force, and for much of the novel, his dismissal papers lie on a desk, awaiting his boss's signature.
The young woman's killing, with seemingly ritual elements, including specific, selective mutilation of her body, is followed by two more, which means postponement of the end for Harry Hole's career. Hole uses oddly gained insights, keen guesses, good detective work, and thoroughly modern technical means to track down the killer. A confrontation with the murderer ensues, though not the climactic one. The life-and-death meeting, an effectively chilling one – and it's not with the killer – comes later.
The novel is rich in incident, in subplot, in deliciously slowed-down narrative passages, but the centerpiece is the protagonist. Hole is the most alcoholic fictional detective I have ever come across. He passes out, he sleeps poorly, and he is tortured by nightmares from his past. Yet he is oddly accepting of his fate, if not passive, and this makes him compelling figure and likeable.
He's a good detective, too, able to rely on unexpected intuitions and constantly analytical of his own ways of seeing and hearing. And not just of his own ways. As the investigation nears its peak and the tension builds, Hole compares a seemingly perfect crime to a perfectly tuned piano: There is something off, suspicious, not quite right about either. The crime part of the insight is Hole's. The piano part is from Duke Ellington.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Norwegian crime fiction