Norwegian crime novelist, Jo Nesbø is a bestselling author who has a varied and interesting background. His vast array of experience is evidenced in this story which is large in scope and depth as far as police procedurals go.
In the US, there are currently only four of his books translated to English in the Harry Hole series. Redbreast and Nemesis are currently available and The Redeemer and The Devil’s Star seems to be currently only available used.
Nemesis is a story that is aptly named because the central theme is about, what else, revenge. The story opens with a bank robbery. The emotions are running high and intense. The armed robber, masked in a balaclava, grabs the bank clerk and demands that the branch manager open the safe within 25 seconds. Unfortunately, the teller is fatally shot and the robber gets away clean, under the nose of the police. The entire event is, however, captured on videotape but it doesn’t lead to any suspects.
An investigative team is quickly assembled together in the conference room that is nicknamed the House of Pain. Their suspect is narrowed down to someone who is experienced, no amateurs. The team consists of Beate Lønn, a cop who is a video expert with the added ability to recognize every face she has ever seen in her life. It’s an abnormality of the fusiform gyrus. It’s the part of the brain that is responsible for face and body recognition.
Harry Hole, the central character in this series, is also apart of the team. He’d recently rejoined the Crime Squad to work on a unrelated case that is personal to him (Redbreast). The investigative team is led by Rune Ivarsson, a man who is more of a politician than a detective. Ivarsson and Hole have a tense relationship and it is during their briefings that the two men would have heated exchanges. I often looked forward to those scenes because they were quite humorous.
Eventually the robbery case branches off into a parallel investigation when the suspect strikes again. Hole and Lønn are partnered together in the hopes that they can make an arrest quickly in order to soothe the public. However, the story gets complicated even further when an old flame from Harry’s past comes knocking on his door. Anna Bethesen and Harry Hole have a history. They were lovers for a brief period of time before they went their separate ways. Anna is a self-proclaimed artist with little to no talent. She seeks out Harry’s company one evening and this leads to another twist in the story.
A quick introduction: Harry’s 35 years old and has been on the police force for ten years. He’s regarded as a “blot on the force” by a few of his superiors due to past history and his drinking. He’s a seasoned detective who is often too fond of the bottle. He’s also reluctant to get involved in long-term relationships because of the “six week itch” that he says is due to his two loves – murder investigation and alcohol (as mentioned earlier).
However, he’s currently involved with single mother, Rakel and her son, Oleg. Rakel has had to fly to Moscow to fight for custody of her son when the story starts. The boy’s father wants custody and has a few politicians in his pocket to make things go in his favor but then he has a strike against his character: he’s an alcoholic. The custody case is brief and we are given updates throughout the story. Moving forward, Anna’s return has made Harry feel guilty and he doesn’t care to be involved with her anymore but she convinces him to go out with her one evening. The next day, Harry can’t remember the previous night’s events and subsequently finds himself in a compromising situation.
My take on Nemesis? It’s a damn good mystery and what I’ve mentioned thus far isn’t nearly all of the plot. The plot is complicated and backed by a lot of research and psychological profiling. The story is very suspenseful and it’s psychological suspense at that. The story has plenty of action and is full of intensity and emotion. A lot of quid pro quo and cat and mouse games. The plot is thickly layered and everything is seemingly connected on the surface. The author did a great job in bringing those threads together, too. As everything unfolded I was just left holding my breath at the outcome/ending.
There are quite a few interesting facts or simple truths interweaved throughout the story that I found enlightening and fascinating that served to amp up the tension/suspense or serve character development or in this case, the description of their suspect:
“Good bank robbers are neither famous nor quotable. You’ve never heard of them because they’ve never been caught. Because they are not direct or simple. The one you’re looking for is one of them.”
Or a discussion of the title which I thought was appropriately named:
“Nemesis, the goddess of justice and vengeance.”
“Which the Romans pinched off the Greeks,” Aune said. “They kept the scales, changed the whip for a sword, bound her eyes and called her Justitia.” He went to the lamp. “When, in 600 BC, they began to think the system of blood revenge didn’t work and decided to exact revenge from the individual and make it a public affair, it was precisely this woman who became the symbol of the modern constitutional state.” he stroked the cold, bronze woman. “Blind justice. Cold blooded vengeance. Our civilization rests in her hands.”
Nemesis is a taut suspense novel that actually delivers. Be warned that the events in here concerning Harry Hole’s previous case are addressed in here and seems to be ongoing. Unlike others, I don’t find it essential to read Redbreast first but there are spoilers in Nemesis and that didn’t bother me. As a reader who doesn’t usually read in order, the story was a good standalone despite the related events from the previous book. The author offers up plenty of backstory to catch you up so no worries there.
The weaknesses of the novel lie mostly within the story’s structure. There is a bit of head hopping in here and the cast of characters are rather large. I wouldn’t say it was difficult to keep them all straight but it did provide a bit of a challenge for me to remember who was who whenever I restarted the story. But your main cast of characters had more screen time anyway so that really wasn’t a problem for me.
I don’t understand why the translated versions of these books are not released in any kind of order. The ending of Nemesis left me with the need to start the next book right away (and I will). I already found a ebook copy of The Redeemer which I think is next. As mentioned previous, this book is apart of a series and is told in third person. I liked Harry Hole and would love to read more about him. He is not as dark as say Jack Taylor (Bruen) but he is your typical cop who has issues with alcohol and authority. Nemesis is, however, a lengthy novel that is broken down into five parts but the story moved quickly. Overall, I was pleased and highly recommend this author. My grade, B+. Now I must hunt for the other two novels. Sigh.