Book review – Police: Harry’s alive and kicking

2013-09-22 14:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Reports that Jo Nesbo killed off his finest creation were greatly exaggerated, writes Natasha Joseph

There’s a wonderful and comforting formula to detective novels: there’s a grizzled, often drunk, relationship-impaired genius at the centre of it all.

He – or, increasingly, she – is a lone wolf. A guru. A sort of Rain Man of detectives who can’t remember simple things like a partner’s birthday or filing tax returns, but is able to uncover the truth and bag the killer – often at great personal cost.

Not all detectives are reprobates. They often have kind, law-abiding and slightly dull sidekicks who act as their moral compasses and brew endless cups of coffee to unsnarl even the nastiest hangover.

But this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Ruth Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford is a lovely chap whose biggest battle is not with the demons of alcoholism or failed marriages, but with his waistline.

Mostly, though, literary detectives are not the best of people. Even the best ones leave you absolutely aghast at yourself because you’re cheering them on when you should be condemning their appalling behaviour.

Sometimes the formula fails miserably and you throw the book across the room before you’re even halfway.

But then there’s Jo Nesbo and his creation, Harry Hole.

Hole is a raging alcoholic – a man out of control. He can work with very few people, he hates bosses and they hate him back.

He’s also absolutely awesome.

In Nesbo’s last book, Phantom, Hole died.

Crime fiction buffs worldwide threw their hands up and howled – sure, Hole always seemed destined for an early grave, but Nesbo’s murder of his beautifully drawn, utterly compelling detective was still a shock to the system.

But it turns out Hole’s not dead. Instead, in Police, he’s a changed man – and he doesn’t feature until well into the novel. By then, his former colleagues are elbow deep in a series of gruesome murders of police officers killed at the scenes of old, unsolved crimes.

His former colleagues are some of Norway’s finest: Beatte Lonn, the head of forensics who never forgets a face; Bjorn Holm, who’s been with Harry since the start and whose love of American country music continues to baffle his colleagues; and Katrine Bratt, who is mentally ill and still a better police officer than most of the force combined. But they’re not Hole, and they need his help.

Those who have followed the Hole series from the beginning (The Bat, which was only released in English quite recently) will be quite astonished by the Harry Hole who appears in this novel.

He’s not only sober, he’s back with the love of his life Rakel and is now a lecturer at Norway’s police college. He is not on active duty, and he doesn’t want to be. End of story.

Or not.

There really hasn’t been a misstep in Nesbo’s 10-book series. That’s quite a claim to make, right? But it’s true: the author skilfully combines tragedy with a wonderfully dark sense of humour, and his characters are richly drawn.

The detail is superb and thoughtful, like Lonn’s earring, made out of one of her slain father’s uniform buttons; or Holm’s personalised coffee mug, which declares him to be country superstar Hank Williams.

A warning: while it’s an easy read in the sense of being the sort of 500 pages you can devour in hours flat, Police is also one of Nesbo’s darkest, creepiest novels yet. There’s a chilling rape narrative that may unsettle many, and the author is not afraid to take his characters to the sunless lands in search of identity, meaning and redemption.

He is also a little like scriptwriter and director Joss Whedon, who has a reputation for creating characters you fall helplessly in love with – and then dispatching them mercilessly.

You’ll cry at least once during Police because Nesbo could care less about your loyalties and nobody is safe.

If you’re new to Nesbo, punish your credit card a little and buy the entire series. Then set aside a week or 10 days, lock yourself in your favourite reading room and prepare to be blown away.

Police by Jo Nesbo

Harvill Secker; 528 pages

R327 at

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Men.24 Model of the Week: Wendy from Cape Town

Find out more about our featured model, Wendy from Cape Town


You won't want to miss...

Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
WATCH: Pornhub is giving users free access to premium content these holidays
5 top leg exercises for men
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.