Harry Hole has a knack for solving difficult cases. He sees invisible patterns, has a strong intuition that guides him, and lots of guts, will, and determination. He has solved a series of difficult cases, the last one involving the so-called Snowman. But it has cost him dearly; in fact, almost everything: The relationship with Rakel and Oleg is over, he has few friends left, and he is probably the most disliked detective in the police department.
Harry Hole was never an easy man to work with. His attitudes – anti-authority, anti-sobriety, anti-rules-of-the-game – make him a danger to himself and those around him. He disregards even direct orders if he sees fit, he doesn’t make compromises, he can be and often is quite intimidating, and he has an unfortunate tendency to be smarter than his bosses. Also, he never sucks up to anyone, and he is far less polite to those above him in rank than to those below him. Harry Hole is the kind of man bosses mostly look for opportunities to get rid of.
Now Harry has turned his back on it all – Oslo, the police department, ignorant bosses and politics – and has gone to Hong Kong. Deep down, Harry is a substance abuser, so what better place to go? He likes to get drunk or anesthetized by some or other drug, and now he has buried himself deep in the squalor of Hong Kong’s opium dens.
This is where we meet him in Jo Nesbo’s (Nesbø) new crime fiction novel The Leopard (original title “Panserhjerte”). (Read more about Jo Nesbo.)
However, in the cold winter in Oslo, a murderer is loose on the streets. He has killed two young women in a very brutal manner – both victims were found with twenty-four inexplicable puncture wounds, and both drowned in their own blood. The crime scenes are clean, the police have no clues, there seems to be no connection between the victims, and on top of that, the media are screaming and raising hell. So the bosses in the Oslo police decide to lure home to Norway the detective who doesn’t want to be found, the only Norwegian detective who knows how to hunt mass murderers.
They send a female police officer to Hong Kong to find Harry Hole and bring him home – using whatever means necessary. Harry agrees to return, not knowing the trouble and ploys that await him in the new mystery that faces him in The Leopard.
There is the case to deal with – an extremely difficult case, but in addition, Harry Hole soon realizes that he is also being used as a pawn in a huge conflict over power and jurisdiction in the Norwegian police system. Moreover, like the pawns in the game of chess, he may be sacrificed at any time. Yet, even though Harry Hole may be a pawn in a bigger game, it is not a game he cares about, and repeatedly he shows the powers that be that unlike chess pieces, Harry Hole has a mind of his own and makes his own moves according to his very own rules.
As always, Harry focuses on the case. He has never been too concerned about self-preservation, does not concern himself with his career and similar things seemingly so important to so many. And soon he makes his first important discovery: The victims actually did have something in common – they had both spent the night in an isolated mountain hostel. And now someone is picking off the guests who spent that particular night there one by one. But who were the people there that night? What happened there? Will Harry manage to stop the murderer before the truth of what transpired will forever be buried in blood?
The Leopard, the sixth Harry Hole thriller (in English – but actually the eight in the Harry Hole series) by the internationally acclaimed Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo is outstanding. The plot twists and curls, and Harry Hole, an extraordinarily interesting man, becomes more and more fascinating. It is a joy to follow him as he out-foxes bosses and colleagues, alienates people left and right in the police force, and doles out justice Hole-style. The Leopard is a top notch, painfully suspenseful crime fiction, and quite possibly Jo Nesbo’s best. It’s a thick brick of a book, but far too short. I loved it. I am certain The Leopard is one of the best crime fiction books of 2011!
PS: Jo Nesbo’s English publisher unfortunately is trying to sell The Leopard and Jo Nesbo as the “next Stieg Larsson”. To my mind Nesbo may well be as good as Larsson, but his style, plots and characters are very different. To me Jo Nesbo currently is Jo Nesbo and he will continue to be Jo Nesbo. He has created a name for himself in his own right, and will continue to grow that name. No other name should be necessary.