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Nesbo, Jo - 'The Devil's Star' (translated by Don Bartlett)
Paperback: 522 pages (Jul. 2006) Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 0099478536

I have read that Jo Nesbo is one crime fiction writer who always knows how a book is going to end before he begins writing. His readers though, are left puzzling through the maze of twists and turns until the very end.

THE DEVIL'S STAR is an outstanding example of the new school of Scandinavian crime fiction, an excellent police procedural with a great plot. The sort of book that makes me think "this is why I love crime novels." I was utterly gripped for all of its 522 pages, and I am a reader who usually likes the shorter novel or novella. There was a good depth of characterisation, lots of vignettes and back-stories, and all the sub plots came together and were put to rest at the end. Well almost all...

There have been other detectives whose heavy drinking is a problem, Rebus and Morse spring to mind, but Oslo Detective Harry Hole is a full blown alcoholic who has touched rock bottom. His career has been blighted by an unsuccessful investigation into the death of his colleague and friend Ellen Gjelten. He has split from his girlfriend Rakel, and his days in the police force are numbered.

Then during the Oslo holiday period Camilla Loen is found murdered in her flat. One of her fingers on her left hand had been cut off, and a tiny diamond shaped like a five pointed star, a pentagram, the devil's star, had been placed behind her eyelid.

Harry is asked by his long-suffering boss Bjarne Moller to work the case alongside his long-time adversary Tom Waaler. Harry believes Waaler is a corrupt cop, involved in arms smuggling and somehow responsible for the death of Ellen Gjelten.

Lisbeth Barli goes missing in broad daylight with only her severed finger found, while Barbara Svendsen is murdered in her office toilet, with a finger severed from her left hand. Now the investigators can utter the words "serial killer".

Among the interesting minor characters is the dedicated forensics officer Beate Lonn, who has had an abusive relationship with Tom Waaler. Then there is the eccentric psychologist Stale Aune who teaches the investigating team, and the reader, everything they need to know about serial killers.

But this novel relies on the very successful interplay between its two interlocking threads of the hunt for the serial killer, and the struggle between the two policemen. I identified with the flawed but caring Harry Hole, a man who feels perhaps too emotionally involved with those around him. While I have known people who I could definitely imagine as the cold, smooth, cynical, totally amoral Tom Waaler, but I won't go there at the request of my legal adviser.

There are a number of clever plot twists that keeps the reader on their toes, and just when you think the hunt is over events take an unexpected turn.

This was a top-drawer crime fiction thriller with well-drawn characters, an interesting detective, a riddle to solve and above all a fresh angle on the serial killer novel.

Read another review of THE DEVIL'S STAR.

Norman Price, England
July 2007

Norman blogs at Crime Scraps.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 1/11/2009 11:00