Nesbo, Jo - 'The Leopard' (translated by Don Bartlett)
Since Richard & Judy picked THE SNOWMAN for one of their campaigns last year, Jo Nesbo's sales have hit the stratosphere in the UK but regular readers of Euro Crime will know that I've been a fan of Inspector Harry Hole since THE REDBREAST made me cry (back in 2007).
So is THE LEOPARD as good as THE SNOWMAN? In my opinion it's better. More layered with more suspicious characters, red-herrings and locations than ever before. And Harry comes to grip with his past and his future (maybe).
In brief, after THE SNOWMAN case ruined his life, Harry fled to Hong Kong where his gambling debts now trap him in the country and he has taken to opium to stop a relapse into alcohol abuse. Back in Oslo, a new serial killer appears to have started up. Two women have died with identical wounds but no obvious murder weapon. Harry's old section, Crime Squad are fighting the rival department, Kripos, headed by Mikael Bellman, to keep hold of murder cases and they need Harry's help. Detective Kaja Solness is sent to Hong Kong to retrieve Harry but he only agrees when she tells him that his father is dying.
Once back in Oslo, Harry sets up a small team to look into the two murders and he soon links it to the recent death of an MP who jumped to her death in an empty swimming pool, with a rope around her neck. Harry unofficially recruits someone, familiar from THE SNOWMAN, to find connections between the three women and so begins the intricate whodunnit plot. The connections take the investigation to a cabin in the snowy mountains and Harry's own knowledge takes him to the war-torn Congo.
THE LEOPARD is very long but the tension really doesn't let up. As well as trying to identify the killer, Harry has to extract himself from several life-endangering situations along the way and there is a description near the end which might have you reading through your fingers. The murders are also rather nasty. THE LEOPARD is intricately plotted with almost everything that you've read - though there a few red-herrings - coming into play at some point during the story. Nonetheless it's impossible to deduce who is behind the killings - which is half the lure of the book, plus you have Harry who is the other half. He is clever and witty but reckless and at times ruthless in his pursuit of what he wants but when he's on the stage, you can't look away. The book ends on an optimistic note but can Harry use his not so nice qualities for his own good? I hope there's a next book so that we can find out.
If you haven't already read THE SNOWMAN then I would recommend rushing out and getting it and reading it before THE LEOPARD as they are two halves of a bigger personal story. There are many allusions to other earlier cases and there is a circular link back to the beginning of Harry's story - at least to those of us who read in English only - with a direct nod to THE REDBREAST.
Both a thriller and a murder-mystery, THE LEOPARD had me gripped and it lead to some late nights. As usual, it is expertly translated by Don Bartlett.
Karen Meek, England