The Devil's Star, Jo Nesbø (Harry Hole Series)

The Devil’s Star (Random House UK) by Jo Nesbø and translated by Don Bartlett, is the third book in the Harry Hole series set in Oslo, Norway.

What can I say? I love this series. For crime fiction fans looking for something new, this series serves up more than just your typical police procedural.

“The Devil’s Star” sorta ends a continuing thread that began in “The Redbreast” and continued on into “Nemesis.” The story arc involved a group of corrupt police officers smuggling guns. Inspector Harry Hole’s partner was killed as a result when the leader of this smuggling ring was discovered. Someone who goes by the code name of “Prince.” That case was officially closed due to lack of evidence.

In “The Devil’s Star,” the story opens with not much personnel at Police HQ due to the current summer holiday in Oslo. The lead protagonist, Inspector Harry Hole, has been allowed to work on his own, short-term, to find the people responsible for the death of his colleague.

He hits a dead end however when he fails to find a viable witness who can finger the cop behind the arms smuggling. This failure prompts Harry to go on a drinking binge. His absence from work plus his drinking has pushed his sympathetic boss to hand Harry his dismissal papers.

But since this is the holiday and the Chief Superintendent isn’t due back for another couple of weeks, Harry is assigned to tackle a missing person’s case that eventually has him working alongside his nemesis, Tom Waaler. There’s no love lost between the two detectives and both can’t stand the sight of each other.

Tom Waaler is cold and arrogant and is highly regarded by his superiors as he continues to rise in the ranks of the police department. He’s their star detective.

What Nesbo is good at is interweaving multiple threads while maintaining a nice tension throughout the story. The threads eventually come together and quite nicely too. In this case you have three murders with one woman missing that has Harry and his team fearing the worst, that there might be a serial killer on the loose during the holiday.

The villain uses a complex code to target his victims. He mutilates them and uses the five star pentagram or “devil’s star” as his signature at the crime scene(s).

After reading three books in this series so far, I keep seeing the same two themes crop up continuously in his books that involve, what else, revenge and betrayal. The author is good at throwing out red herrings and there’s plenty of characters in here to point the finger at and think: is it him? is it her?

In the end though, what you think is just another serial killer story actually morphs into a cat and mouse game between Harry and his nemesis. Very dark yet gripping, page-turning stuff.

I love complex plots and this story like it’s predecessors delivers yet again. And Harry Hole is just about as fascinating as his cases. He’s an alcoholic which is his crutch. He’s also driven and dedicated to his job.

Often Harry is quite melancholy. A man still beset by his demons. There’s not much of a romance in here but Harry is in love with a single mother who wants him to give up his job. All very familiar tropes in crime fiction novels but who cares, it’s all good reading.

Nesbø does well with a somewhat largish cast because each character have a distinctive voice or story and is provided depth to differentiate them from each other. I was able to keep up.

Recurring characters like Beate Lønn, a video expert working in forensics, is the only person Harry trusts. Harry taught her the tenets of detective work and she’s often seen regurgitating back what he’s taught her in the field.

And the writing is, oh my, it’s quite impressive to this reader at least. Stale Aune, the criminologist who assists Harry with his cases often provides for much of the psychological suspense in here. Here is a snippet of the start of his lecture to the other cops in the meeting room:

There is every reason to believe that serial killers have existed for as long as there have been men on earth to kill. However, many consider the so-called “Autumn of Terror” in 1888 the first serial killer case of modern times. It’s the first documented case of a serial killer with a purely sexual motive. The murderer killed five women before vanishing into thin air. He was given the epithet “Jack the Ripper” but he took his real identity with him to the grave.

Or this scene that gives the story’s title some meaning. To set up this scene, Harry is having a discussion with one of his earlier witnesses about the pentagram the killer is using.

“Five is the most important figure in black magic. Did it have one or two points sticking upwards?
“One”
“So it’s not the sign of evil then. The sign you’re describing might symbolise both vitality and passion. Where did you find it?”
“On a beam above her bed.”
“Oh, I see,” Nygard said. That’s a simple one then.”
“Oh? ”
“It’s what we call a mare cross or a devil’s star.”
“A mare?”
“The mare, yes. As in nightmare. A female demon who sits on the chest of a sleeping person and rides him so that he has bad dreams. The pagans thought she was a spirit. Not that strange since “mare” is derived from the Indo-Germanic “mer.”

“Have to confess that my Indo-Germanic is not up to much.”

“It means “death.” Nygard stared down into his cup of coffee. “Or to be more precise, “murder.”

In closing, I’d like to state that the setting along with the characters are a significant reason why I enjoy this series so much. The author provides an atmospheric touch to the time and place of the events that it gives the reader the sense that they are in the middle of the action, too.

While this author can do no wrong in my eyes when it comes to the plotting his stories, he does tend to meander a bit and he does shuffle through a somewhat large cast of characters. But then this is crime fiction on a more global scale. I tripped up over Norwegian names but trust me that didn’t slow me down at all.

The ending while suspenseful, didn’t have my heart racing this time like in the previous two books. In the end though, The Devil’s Star gets an A from me because the story was a page-turning joy to read.

As far as I know, the only two books available to get in the U.S. is The Redbreast and Nemesis in trade paperback. The Devil’s Star shows that it is coming soon as well as The Redeemer. They just can’t translate these books fast enough for me so I tend to get my copies from the UK. So. On to The Redbreast now (which is the name of a robin).

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About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Grade A Reviews, Mystery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Devil's Star, Jo Nesbø (Harry Hole Series)

  1. Johnny Ray says:

    This sounds like a good read. I will have to look for it.
    Johnny Ray
    http://www.johnnyray.info

  2. Avid Reader says:

    @Johnny Ray: Yes, I love this man’s work. Hopefully, they’ll translate all of his novels so that I can read them.

  3. Renee says:

    This sounds like a series I’ll have to look for at the library. The mysteries sound meaty, and I love conflicted characters like HH.

    Great review, Keishon!

  4. Avid Reader says:

    @Renee: Hope you get to read him, Renee! I’d like to see what other readers think of his books.

  5. Trisha says:

    Okay, finally read it and now I can read the review!

    Agree about the ending. It just…lacked something The Redbreast and Nemesis had. Still a great book, but I think Nemesis is my favorite of the three.

  6. Avid Reader says:

    @Trisha: Nemesis is your favorite huh? If I had to pick, I’d say The Redeemer was my favorite. Tense from beginning to end.

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