28 October 2011

Nesbø, Harry and 'Phantom'

Jo Nesbø
In Wednesday's post I went over the lineup of the nine novels to date in Jo Nesbø's series about sometimes Oslo police inspector Harry Hole. Let's pick up the frequently asked questions where we left off.

Q: How violent are the books? I'm not big on books about serial killers.... A: Only a few of the books to date actually involve serial killings. You definitely don't need to be a fan of, say, Thomas Harris to enjoy the Harry Hole books. Violence? When I read The Snowman, it struck me as the most violent book so far, with The Devil's Star a close second, but the violence never seems gratuitous (or purely genre-driven) to me. True, the books all involve homicide investigations, including at least some forensics. And Harry does manage to get roughed up quite frequently, even for a fictional detective.

Q: Suppose I'm the one reader who never got into Stieg Larsson's books? Or Henning Mankell's? Or.... A: Not a problem. Scandinavia is just a geographic region--not the best reason to read one author rather than another. Scandinavian crime novels are all different. Even Nesbø's own novels seem to me quite different from one another. Try one. You might like it. (I suggested The Redbreast as a starting place for US readers. But not because it's in any way 'typical'.)

The 9th Harry Hole novel
German translation
Die Larve (2011)
I'm blogging about Nesbø and Harry this week because I just read the ninth book in the series, the one that will be published in the UK in March 2012 under the title Phantom. (I can't contain my enthusiasm for the book, but I'll do my utmost to keep this post spoiler-free.) Until this point I'd been playing catch-up with Nesbø; with this book I have become a follower--as addicted to the series as his hero and certain other characters in the new book are to their drugs of choice.

Harry is a recovering alcoholic with memorable lapses; the new book involves the illegal drug trade in Oslo. Phantom, appropriately enough, brought me more highs and lows, as a reader, than any other Nesbø novel. And by lows I mean not disappointments but... let's say developments from which some readers may take a while to recover. Obviously I'm still working on my recovery, three days after finishing Phantom. And speaking of following--and serials--I'm already impatient for the next book in the series. I just realized: Harry Hole is a serial. The blogger is, at least sometimes, the last to know. (Inexcusable parenthesis, especially addressed to fans of Samuel Beckett: I've had my own I-can't-go-on-I'll-go-on oscillation with Phantom and its final scenes. Try, all readers of Phantom please try, this experiment on yourselves: count the number of days or hours after finishing Phantom before you start thinking about book ten in the series.)

Speaking of trying to remain spoiler-free: by some lucky accident, I managed to read the first several chapters of Phantom without knowing certain facts about the plot. I had read only the earliest, briefest descriptions released by Nesbø's German publisher, Ullstein--which have since been replaced by longer blurbs that continue to be discreet but reveal, among other things, how the set-up of the novel relates it to the others that preceded it. In other words, I was surprised--not bowled over, more delighted, mildly but quite 'pleasantly' surprised--by parts of the set-up with which almost every future reader may be familiar before starting the book. (It was, for me, the first of the book's 'highs'. It's a high you may still be able to share--if you restrict what you read and hear about the book between now and the time you read it.)

The whole experience made me dream of an alternative universe in which readers could approach each new book in a state of comparative innocence. In which publishers didn't feel they had to give anything away for the sake of making a sale. In which bloggers, even, rivalled one another in discretion.

I've far exceeded my allotted 500 words for the day--which can be justified not by anything I've communicated about the plot of Phantom (of which I'd vowed to reveal as little as possible) but perhaps by the fact that I'll be taking several days off from blogging (although not from Twitter). I'll be on the road, and if I weigh in here at all it will be only with a comment or two rather than a scheduled post. (By the way, I'm holding off on talking about book eight in the series until closer to its US release date.) Happy reading, listening and coffee-drinking, and happy living as well--until next time.

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