Book Review: The Redbreast

I first went seeking the work of Jo Nesbo after I saw a Random House recommendation on FaceBook and then followed this up by reading a review of his latest work in The Guardian. The reviewer began by expressing disdain for the number of Scandinavian authors being likened to Steig Larson. However, in the case of Nesbo, it stated, the claim was justified. I didn’t need to read any further… I was hooked. Instead of plunging into his latest work, however, I returned to the first book of his translated into English and featuring his flawed Inspector ‘hero’, the improbably named Harry Hole – not the most exciting name for a man the reader comes to understand and admire.
The Redbreast is a complex and rich book that can initially be a little overwhelming as the reader is introduced to Hole and a host of other characters and in two distinct time periods: one the immediate past (1999), the other, a group of Norwegian soldiers on the Eastern front in the 1940s and a hospital/sanatorium and the events that occur there and the people who instigate them. It is testimony to the power of Nesbo’s work that you are quickly invested in all the characters and their struggles to live, love, while carrying the burden of a dark past and, in Hole’s case, solve a complex case involving Neo-Nazis and a serial killer.

As the book progresses, the past and present start to converge and the mystery surrounding the killer begins to unravel… but so do Hole’s attempts to embark on an affair, attempts that are foiled at the highest levels of politics.

In many ways, it’s unfair to compare Nesbo’s work to Larson’s. Nesbo’s stands on its own without comparison. It’s original, fast-paced and has quite brilliant characterisations. It explores a specific period of history and its underpinning ideologies in challenging ways, leaving you uncomfortable and trying to understand just what loyalty – to country, beliefs, lovers and the self means.

I couldn’t put it down and am now determined to read all of Nesbo’s work and, as someone who really enjoys well-written thrillers/crime novels, where the human capacity for great love, betrayal and treachery is explored, is grateful to have ‘found’ him.

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