Nesbo, Jo - 'The Devil's Star' (translated by Don Bartlett)
In the middle of a long hot summer in Oslo, a young woman's body is found murdered in her flat, with one finger cut off and a tiny five pointed star diamond beneath her eyelid.
Detective Harry Hole is a chronic alcoholic, on the verge of being sacked from the police force; but it's summer, everyone's on holidays and his boss has no choice but to assign the case to Harry and his colleague Tom Waaler. Harry doesn't trust Tom and suspects him of, amongst other things, arms smuggling. Harry's drinking problem is greatly exacerbated by his guilt and distress over the death of his work partner, whom he suspects was killed by Tom and despite his objections and his chronic drinking, he has to stay on the case.
A woman is then reported missing and the only clue is her severed finger wearing a ring with the same sort of star-shaped red diamond and everyone realises that they have a serial killer in Oslo.
As bodies continue to be discovered it seems that 5 is the common denominator: 5 points to the star, 5 fingers, and 5 days between each victim. Whilst Harry is determined to find this killer, and to expose Tom he finds himself on the run from the police and forced to act to protect the son of his estranged lover into the bargain.
Reading this synopsis, you can almost feel the reaction. Alcoholic policeman in trouble with his boss. A serial killer. Bizarre "clues" from the killer. Dangerous cliche ridden territory you would think, but from the opening of the book which describes the passage of water through a building from the point of view of the history of the building, through to the struggle that Harry has in handling his alcoholism, relationships, and the personal campaign he carries to expose corruption in the police force the cliches are not evident and this is a very promising debut novel. Oslo was an interesting setting with sufficient of the location provided to give some context to the story, but deftly avoiding becoming a travelogue.
Definitely an entry in the increasing list of Scandinavian crime fiction author must reads, this is a deft and well written debut novel.
NB. THE DEVIL'S STAR is the fifth in the Harry Hole series and the first to be translated into English. THE REDBREAST, out in September 2006, is the third in the series.
Read another review of THE DEVIL'S STAR.
Karen Chisholm, Australia