Well, here I am again, after having succumbed to the lure of Norwegian crime writer Joe Nesbo and read another of his books after vowing not to after the last. And it’s not that his thrillers aren’t terrifying. They are. And I do enjoy Nesbo’s protagonist Detective Harry Hole. Hole gives us the standard noir mix of lone wolf and hero complex that stamps some of the best characters in the genre, such as Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, and yet Hole’s unsustainable love relationships, his alcohol and drug dependency, and ever present suicidal leaning—gives him that uniquely angsty European flavor so familiar to readers of the Stieg Larsson trilogy and so tiresome when it is unrelieved by change.
When I had finished wading through the excessive layers of The Leopard’s plot, complicated by the tangle of Norwegian names and places which Nesbo rather liberally sprinkles his pages with, I once again had that unfortunate feeling of relief that the lengthy novel was finally finished.
The Leopard is the story of a murderer whose identity is up for grabs throughout the bulk of the novel, but when it is finally revealed, it somehow comes as no surprise whatsoever. He knocks off one victim after another in a variety of graphically gruesome ways, and they all turn out to have been random visitors to a ski cabin during an apparently fateful encounter to which they may or may not have been witness. At the beginning of the novel, Harry Hole has fled Norway and is living as an opium addict in Hong Kong while hiding from the Triad which holds his drug debts. He is rescued and whisked back to Norway by a pretty young detective, to help find this newest serial killer and say goodbye to the dying father he has never made his peace with. Hole finds himself in the midst of a battle over who gets to control Oslo’s crime-fighting resources, and he races to find the serial killer before the charismatic but immoral cop Bellman does and uses the victory to leverage himself into power. Add in the saga of his father’s slow death, his affair with the young detective, various men with lisps and missing digits, and the overly-detailed family histories of many characters Hole meets along the way, and the story begins to clog up.
Nesbo has a fascinating way of switching viewpoints, so that one moment you’re in the mind of a victim just before his or her murder, the next you’re in the mind of the killer, while all the while following Hole down the rabbit hole. (Sorry!) In fact, Nesbo’s hero suffers more near-death experiences than I thought it possible to fit in a single novel, but unsurprisingly, fantastically, manages to survive each and every one. The story flits back and forth between a snowy Norway and a steamy Congo—both portrayed in rather stereotypical ways, I thought–and is stuffed with enough violence to make even this veteran thriller reader gag. The end, when it comes, is worthy of a Hollywood action thriller but not of a well-written crime thriller.