Monday, August 1, 2011

The Redder than Redbreast.... Review of Jo Nesbø 's book.

1942: Daniel a Norwegian soldier fighting on the Eastern front on the German side is killed. One of his comrades falls in love with a Austrian nurse whilst recouperating from severe wounds. Meanwhile 57 years later, a Detective in Oslo with the unlikely name of Harry Hole is appointed to the Norwegian secret service, to monitor neo-Nazi activity in Norway: a fairly mundane assignment that turns out to be anything but.... 

With many parellels to the recent events with the terrorist bomb and killings in Norway along with the support for multiculturalism, this novel, which won the Glass Key, the Riverton prize and the Norwegian Bookclub Prize for the best ever Norwegian crime novel, The  Redbreast is a long and at times complicated read that will take the reader on a historic and contemporary journey through the hearts and minds of people who once were prepared to sacrifice their lives in order to save Norway from the Bolshevik advance by fighting with the Naziis, and how this affected them, when they discovered they had been labelled traitors on their return to Norway, and shunned in their own society after the war, a topic rarely written about in the Western world. 
Such a different perspective can reveal things hitherto unseen, and at times, I felt almost a sympathy for the men, despite philosophically being poles apart from them.  It made me question the modern politic stereotype of Norway, I wondered just how many Norwegian people held or continue to hold these beliefs, hidden surreptitiously, (as with the killer at Utoeya), under a guise of normality. The Utoeya massacre happened within several days of me completing this book. Chillingly ironic and familiar were some of the attitudes found amongst the more despicable characters in the book. 

Harry Hole, the alcoholic detective, seems to be in the situation where he has been sidelined from the regular squad due to an embarrassing mistake and now has a free rein to investigate as he wishes without interference from his superiors/bureaucracy. Following his hunches that several murders are linked, he pays a personal adn tragic price in the book, but manages to find romance in all the horror. I found this an unlikely but interesting diversion, but it provides Hole with a clue vital in solving the mystery.  Although we know the killer's mind from the start (but not who he is), he remains carefully hidden through out the book, his actions being explained by a slightly unbelievable trip to a psychiatrist.
Does Nesbø feel sympathy for the treatment these "traitors" or does he find it all the more despicable that Neo Nazis persist in modern Norway and idolise these historic "warriors" in a perverse way, using this as justification for their "thuggish" behaviour. I am not sure.  Yet there is still the theme of redemption offered up to readers too, albeit in small amounts.

Despite taking me a while to get " into" this book, I would seriously recommend it, and particular to those readers of the crime/historical /political fiction genres. This is the first of Harry Hole stories to be translated into English, and I hope it won't be the last as my ability to read Norsk is severely limited to non-existant.  I will be following up with Nemesis and Devils' star....also by Nesbø.

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