Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

Cover of "Nemesis"
Cover of Nemesis

If you like your crime thrillers complex and dense then you will want to check out Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo’s latest Nemesis.

Being the lazy blogger that I am, allow me to reproduce the publishers copy to introduce the plot:

Grainy closed-circuit television footage shows a man walking into an Oslo bank and putting a gun to a cashier’s head. He tells the young woman to count to twenty-five. When the robber doesn’t get his money in time, the cashier is executed, and two million Norwegian kroner disappear without a trace. Police Detective Harry Hole is assigned to the case.

While Hole’s girlfriend is away in Russia, an old flame decides to get in touch. Former girlfriend and struggling artist Anna Bethsen invites Hole to dinner, and he can’t resist a visit. But the evening ends in an all too familiar way as Hole awakens with a thundering headache, a missing cell phone, and no memory of the past twelve hours. That same morning, Anna is found shot dead in her bed. Hole begins to receive threatening e-mails. Is someone trying to frame him for this unexplained death? Meanwhile, the bank robberies continue with unparalleled savagery.

As the death toll continues to mount, Hole becomes a prime suspect in a criminal investigation led by his longtime adversary Tom Waaler and Waaler’s vigilante police force. Racing from the cool, autumnal streets of Oslo to the steaming villages of Brazil, Hole is determined to absolve himself of suspicion by uncovering all the information needed to crack both cases. But the ever-threatening Waaler is not finished with his old archenemy quite yet.

Now let me confess that I didn’t read The Redbreast or any other of Nesbo’s earlier works.  To be honest I didn’t want to read a 500 plus page book to see if I wanted to read another almost 500 page book.  Call me closed minded but that is quite a commitment in my world.

So instead I just dived into Harry Hole’s world with no background.  And it worked just fine for the most part.  I am not sure, however, if my not having read the back-story as it were lead to my frustration with the dense and over-layered plot.  And the ending was clearly a “to be continued” situation; which is unsatisfying to a degree.

But as noted above, Nesbo creates a complex – if at times convoluted – story with lots of characters, a dash of psychology and philosophy and enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.

The question is how complex is too complex?  As noted above, I am not sure if my frustration with the story comes from not having read the previous work.  The more I thought about it the more I realized that expectations are just different when it comes to series or reoccurring characters.  We expect them to be less tidy and more roaming in nature.  Because part of the fun of series is that we explore the world and the character across a number of books; part of the interest is just exploring not always clear conclusions.

Kirkus described it as “threaded through a series of Chinese boxes revealing one false solution after another before the brilliantly inventive final twist.”  But at times I felt that there were too many threads to follow.  It felt like being trapped in a room with fun-house mirrors; like the author got carried away.

I also didn’t find it quite so “briskly paced” or that much of a “nail-bitter” as some of the reviewers.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed and clearly Nesbo is a skillful writer.  Hole is a great character and Nemesis has some great themes and plot twists (revenge; the twin passions of love and hate; is it about a bankrobbery or murder or about getting even; etc.).  It certainly kept my interest and me in suspense.

It just felt a little too thick; a little overdone in places.  Every major character had a back-story with a secret or was involved in a plot twist.  At times this made it hard to focus on the central story.  But perhaps part of this is explained by the nature of the series and some by the style Nesbo uses.  He wants you, like Hole, to be chasing your tale trying to make sense of all the information.  And while I can see the appeal, and appreciate the skill, it isn’t my preferred style.  I like my thrillers a little tighter.

In my younger years I am sure I would have just dived into the series and enjoyed every minute.  Call me lazy, but I don’t read a lot of 500 page books these days.

But as noted above, if you enjoy complexly plotted mysteries with a reoccurring character I am sure you will enjoy Nesbo and Harry Hole.  But you might want to track down the earlier books in the series and start there.  If you are going to enjoy the adventure you might  as well start at the beginning.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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