Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: PHANTOM by Jo Nesbo

Review: PHANTOM by Jo Nesbo (Harvill Secker, 2012)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

When Harry left Oslo again for Hong Kong—fleeing the traumas of life as a cop—he thought he was there for good. But then the unthinkable happened. The son of the woman he loved, lost, and still loves is arrested for murder: Oleg, the boy Harry helped raise but couldn't help deserting when he fled. Harry has come back to prove that Oleg is not a killer. Barred from rejoining the police force, he sets out on a solitary, increasingly dangerous investigation that takes him deep into the world of the most virulent drug to ever hit the streets of Oslo (and the careers of some of the city's highest officials), and into the maze of his own past, where he will find the wrenching truth that finally matters to Oleg, and to himself.

For a while now reviewers and publicists have been keen to anoint a variety of Scandinavian crime writers as ‘the next Stieg Larsson’, and perhaps none has been tabbed as such more than Norwegian Jo Nesbø. But Nesbø is no Larsson replacement; he’s his own man, his own writer. And a better one, at that.

PHANTOM is the ninth instalment in the Harry Hole series (the seventh to be translated into English), and it’s another superb read. Returning to Oslo after three years abroad, Hole, a hero with the seeds of destruction within him, seeks out his old police boss, wanting to investigate the death of a handsome young junkie. The catch? Hole’s old colleagues already have the case in the ‘solved’ column, and the killer, another junkie, in custody. Hole, for personal reasons, is driven to find the truth beneath the obvious, to find who is really responsible for a young man spending his last moments bleeding to death in a dilapidated Oslo apartment. But will this be the first impossible case of Hole’s career? The case that could finally break him?

Hole’s mental equilibrium isn’t the only thing in danger; as soon as he steps off the plane from Asia he’s followed. He may have been absent from Oslo for years, but he’s still seen as a credible threat by some very powerful people, who’d rather stay hidden in the shadows and not be exposed as Hole goes about his business.

As Hole reconnects with his old city, which is now swirling with a new highly addictive drug after politicians and police worked hard to clear the streets of heroin (some more for their own benefit than that of the general public), and aspects of his old life, the murdered boy also tells his story to the reader, as he lies bleeding to death on the apartment floor months earlier. The twin narratives are a device that could easily have fallen flat in the hands of a lesser writer (and often have), but Nesbø shows his chops by balancing things nicely, building tension and intrigue, whilst also setting the reader up for some memorable twists and surprises.

PHANTOM is a mesmerising tale that is as much about the deterioration and changing perspectives of its increasingly dishevelled protagonist, as the investigation and solving of a crime. Hole is a terrifically enigmatic and layered (anti?)hero, who mixes dark and light, hope and despair. Throughout the excellent series he’s been effected, physically and more, by all he’s seen and done. He carries scars, seen and unseen; a tote-board of his achievements and failures. And Nesbø brings many things to a head in PHANTOM, which is much more than a tale of a junkie’s death, and a mysterious drug dealer now ruling Oslo’s streets. Gripping, fascinating, highly recommended.

And with a haymaker right to the jaw in the closing stages.


Related content and other media

Other reviews of PHANTOM:

Comments welcome

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link to my review. I thought this book a return to form after a few disappointing Nesbo books. I found the violence less extreme and the plot complex but not excessively so.