The fifth book in the Harry Hole sequence, The Devil’s Star, is quite simply, a cracker. Fast-paced from beginning to end, it is brutal, unrelenting and always fascinating. I cannot put these Harry Hole books down and know when I pick one up, I am in for long nights and an emotional ride – The Devil’s Star was no different.
The novel commences in a steamy summer in Olso when a young woman’s body is found with a finger severed and a small ruby five-pointed star is secreted in her body. This being a Nesbo novel, it’s inevitable that where there’s one body, others will follow. Soon there’s a trail of brutality and bloodshed that Harry and his team have to try and stop. But this novel isn’t only about bodies in apartments; it’s also about skeletons in closets and Harry’s private and professional life spiralling out of control. In trying to come to grips with the loss of fellow detective, Ellen Gjetlen (who met her death in the brilliant third book, Redbreast), something he feels responsible for, Harry spirals back into alcoholism and the reader recoils and gasps as he stumbles from flashes of brilliance and terrific work to dejection, loss of control and the demon drink. The way Nesbo portrays the thrall of alcoholism, the seductive and terrible allure of the bottle is unlike anything I’ve read before and you ache for Harry but also understand why he gives in to its power.
On top a difficult case, Harry also has to deal with the threat of his colleague, the charismatic and dangerous Tom Waller, whom he suspects of crimes far worse than those he’s encountering as they involve betrayal of the worst kind. Add to that that he’s about to be sacked from the force, and the plot becomes thicker than treacle and just as dark – you never see what’s coming. That’s the beauty of Nesbo’s books, you cannot second guess the story, or predict Harry’s actions.
Though tautly plotted, I found the motivation for the main crime less convincing than usual, and the final scene between Harry and the killer a tiny bit overplayed. Having said that, the enthralling cat and mouse game between Harry and his nemesis that begins the moment you open the book more than compensated for this. Brilliant, the rush towards the climax and how this particular storyline is resolved is breath-taking and utterly believable.
Nesbo would have to be among the finest writing in this style – the anti-hero hero who is more flawed than faultless, clever yet vulnerable and with a heart of gold. Harry is someone who is capable of fixing everyone else’s problems but not his own; who inspires love and often returns it only to discover his greatest love will always triumph and thus ensure his relationships are always doomed. The Norwegian setting (and others) is so beautifully drawn, it too becomes a beguiling yet seedy character to which you long to return, no matter what the reading cost – mostly sleepless nights and eagerness for the next book.
A fabulous addition to a terrific series.