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Book Review: Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

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Jo Nesbo has the plot and the storytelling pretty much down pat. He needs, however, to work on brevity. A whopping 475 pages for a police procedural, although convoluted and dramatic, is close to double what a good novel of this sort should be. And to top it off, after nearly 500 pages, Nesbo leaves us hanging, so you know there’s almost certain to be a sequel, or follow-up.

Nemesis is a very good book which introduces Harry Hole to American and English readers. Harry is almost the cliché of the modern detective, and especially police, action novels: He’s divorced, an alcoholic, unfaithful, despised by many of his contemporaries, and pardoned almost daily by his long-suffering bosses, because he always gets his man. Plus, Harry is a quixotic figure because he’s also trying to fight corruption within, and in a preceding book, he lost his female working partner.

The book begins with a bank robbery gone wrong… or has it? Doubts arise when a bank teller is killed in the robbery, seemingly a senseless and completely unnecessary killing. The robber got his money, he got it without fuss or problem, and he got it quickly. But not quickly enough, according to the security camera’s retelling of the tale. A few seconds exacted the price of a bullet from his gun.

The investigation takes us through a veritable banquet of problems, consequences, blind alleys, and dead ends, all compounded by the personal interplay and conflict of a healthy cast of police, suspects, witnesses, and victims – not to mention the novelistic bystanders.

On the strong plus side, Nesbo tells a tale that sucks you in, runs you through the mill, then spits you out on the other end, only to drag you through the mill yet again, and then a third, and a fourth time, with his convoluted plot. Just when you think Hole has his man – or woman – the plot takes a corkscrew turn which spins you dizzyingly into a complication of the plot, and then it does it yet again.

I didn’t really get wrapped up in Nemesis until after about the initial 100 pages or so. While interesting and enough of a draw to keep me mostly interested, it did meander somewhat. After that, though, it settled into a mostly entertaining and interesting story. Plus it gives readers on this side of the Atlantic (Nesbo is Norse, and writes in Norwegian, and is translated quite well into English) a chance to get a taste of life that not many people write about.

Please don’t misunderstand my above remarks to mean I didn’t like Nesbo’s writing. I liked it enough to order from Amazon his first translated novel, The Redbreast, before I was even halfway into this book. I’d recommend his writing to anybody who likes police procedurals. And to top it off, I learned that we all have a software program, fusiform gyrus, built into us.

About Lou Novacheck