Translated by Séan Kinsella — The 13th novel in Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series should have some sort of warning on the cover. Advisory: Do Not Read After Eating. The killer in this book uses methods so horrible and heinous that it’s one of the few crime novels I’ve read that has literally turned my stomach. There are parasite infestations (think The Last of Us), decapitations and, at one point, the anonymous perp eats a human brain. With plenty for forensics to, erm, get their teeth into, this is a police procedural and a thriller that at times verges on horror. But… what a read!
It’s fantastic to be back in the company of Norwegian detective Harry Hole, who is drowning his sorrows yet again after two people very close to him perished in the 2019 novel, Knife. He’s run away to LA, his credit card is maxed out and he’s drinking in a dive bar with an actress in her 60s who owes money to a Mexican gang.
Meanwhile, back in Oslo, two women have disappeared after attending a party held by billionaire property developer Markus Røed. Finding himself the main suspect, Røed asks his lawyer to contact Harry in the hope that the detective will return to Norway and clear his name, working as a private investigator. Harry’s colleague Katrine Bratt from the serious crimes division would also like him to return and help the police investigation, but Harry only has one partner at the moment and his name is Jim Beam.
When the Mexicans come to collect, Harry sees a chance for some redemption and steps in to protect the actress, although soon enough she’s abducted. Harry has a week to stump up the better part of a million dollars or she’ll die. So he calls Røed’s lawyer back – he’ll return to Oslo, get Røed off the hook if he’s innocent and his fee will pay the ransom.
The case is a baffling one with all sorts of strange dimensions to it. The body of one of the young women is found and the mutilation suggests she was the victim of a serial killer. She’s half naked, her brain has been removed, there are no forensic traces to go on… Katrine Bratt and her team begin working with Sung-min Larsen of the national crime agency, Kripos. She wishes Harry were on board but as he’s joined the dark side by working for Røed the police hierarchy are not impressed. However, Harry is certain that Røed has a great deal to hide.
As usual, Jo Nesbo traces numerous plot lines from the perspectives of various characters. The killer’s real identity is concealed but we know them by the nickname Prim. A deeply troubled, damaged, narcissistic and thoroughly irredeemable individual, even though we get to understand Prim, there’s no way you’ll feel sympathy for this one. It gradually becomes clear that Prim isn’t just hunting young blonde women. Their angry mission includes someone close to Harry. Could the detective be heading towards another tragedy? If so, he doesn’t know it.
On his side of the investigation, Harry assembles a team that includes his old ally, profiler Ståle Aune, who is dying of cancer. Aune’s hospital room becomes Harry’s base of operations. In the unlikeliest team-up ever, corrupt cop Truls Berntsen, a favourite in Police, becomes Harry’s ally. Plus, there’s Harry’s old schoolmate Øystein, a taxi driver and reformed drug dealer. The camaraderie of this team is one of the most pleasing aspects of the book – a counter to Harry’s angst, grief and battle with alcoholism.
Plenty of other old faces resurface as well. Mona Daa, the sweary journalist, features; former police chief Mikael Bellman is now justice minister; and DNA lab tech Alexandra, an on-off love interest, has a key role to play. Via a varied cast, Nesbo passes comment on the big and little changes in Norwegian society, vintage rock music, Oslo neighbourhoods and the city’s modern architecture.
As a long-term fan of the series, I felt back in my element diving into Killing Moon. It has a ticking-clock urgency to it, and the author swings to and fro between key and secondary characters – and key bits of action – which makes for a lively and stimulating read. At 490 pages, it’s much shorter than Knife, which went on too long. Truls Berntsen isn’t as devious or slimy as he could be, which is a little disappointing. There are also a few “Wait… really?” plot points and situations that stretch credulity, but that’s nothing new for this series.
Jo Nesbo is an author who strives for originality when it comes to setting up a climax, and in Killing Moon he delivers a belter during a late summer lunar eclipse over Oslo. There are multiple paths of peril for the characters, and just when you think everything has become clear, the ground shifts. I didn’t figure out who the killer was, although you’re likely cleverer than I am and might well do so early on. Finally, there’s a thread in this novel that strongly suggests a 14th book is on the way – here’s hoping it won’t take four years to materialise!
CFL Rating: 4 Stars