The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø

by Kristopher Cook
Time to Read: 4 minutes

Shooting an American agent during a joint-protection operation would find most people in hot water, however, Harry Hole isn’t most people.

Centred on the purchase of a Marklin Rifle, Hole finds himself promoted to Inspector after his incident, and tasked with finding out why someone would go through the risk and expense of importing an old gun into Norway when they could easily get a more powerful weapon on the black market?

Adding to the dilemma is a group of Neo-Nazi’s who’re suspects in the murder of an elderly man who frequented their bar.

Fight or Flight

The name ‘The Redbreast’ is taken from the common bird, which has the choice of flying south for the winter, but in doing so will lose out in the summer months to a suitable nesting spot, or alternatively, staying to battle the harsh weather, but with the reward of a prime nest later.

This is in parallel to the hard choices that Harry has to make along his journey, which is presented in two narratives; the past and the present.

‘A handgun was all that was needed to kill the most protected person in Sweden. And the Olaf Palme assassin was never caught. So why a gun costing over half a million kroner to shoot someone here?’

Jo Nesbø, Chapter 30

Joining Hole this time around is officer Ellen Gjelten, who quickly strikes up an excellent working relationship with Hole.

Harry, nonetheless, becomes distracted by one of the government secretaries, Rakel Fauke, who’s currently in a complicated battle for custody of her son, Oleg.

These complications run deep within the parties involved, crossing paths with many characters Harry interacts with along his investigations.

Tension is Building

Jo Nesbø is an incredible author, particularly when it comes to creating detailed characters. He’s also a dab-hand at building tension between them, sexual or otherwise, to elevate his stories from good to exceptional.

Hole, along with the Scandinavian weather, is as pessimistic as ever. Despite this, he’s still one of those characters you can’t help but gravitate towards. Sure, he has his problems, but he feels realistic within the Norwegian Police Force.

After all, who doesn’t have positive and negative attributes to their character? These are the things that make us individual, as well as lovable/dislikeable in equal measures.

I have to say that this is the best book in the series so far.

I know that doesn’t mean too much when I’m only through three books, but it’s a positive sign that Nesbø is refining his main character and the plots that take place around him.

‘Yes, life throws up bizarre coincidences,’ Rakel said. ‘So bizarre that you would never get away with it in fiction, anyway.’

Jo Nesbø, Chapter 82

Standout moments include; the opening scene, with Harry, put in the predicament of protecting the president but possible shooting an unarmed civilian or standing by while the president is essentially assassinated.

It offers up a moral code for Harry, especially given his past history within the police force.

There are also plenty of twists and turns within this book, double agents, secret spies and dirty cops, all adding to the mystery of the main plot.

Going South

Despite all the positives of The Redbreast, there are a few negatives to consider.

Firstly, the jumping back and forth between present-day and World War II becomes tiresome. I understand it’s there to build the persona of ‘Uriah’, along with the mystery surrounding his modern-day character, but it does feel out of place.

I think this is because Jo Nesbø’s previous books have kept mostly to the present when moving the narrative along, only referring back to past events, instead of putting the reader there. I guess I was just caught off guard and taken back by it.

Secondly, there are a lot of coincidences that take place. This isn’t a tragic black mark on the book, because most books will use them, but too many and they start to become noticeable.

These coincidences take place in the form of Harry crossing paths with just about every ‘bad guy’ at one point or another, each with a backlink into his past or present cases.

Closing Thoughts

Jo Nesbø is in full-swing here with the Harry Hole series really beginning to take off.

Sure, parts of it are coincidental, and the timeline jumping can feel vague, but overall he does present a solid story that’s steeped in mystery.

The characters develop accordingly, and the action is as loud as ever.

If you’ve read up to this point, then keep going, and if you’re new to the series then consider starting with the first book, The Bat.

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