Book Review: The Devil’s Star, by Jo Nesbo

Critics have dubbed Jo Nesbo “the Norwegian Stieg Larsson,” which made me want to check out his work. Though his material is stylistically different from Larsson’s work, Nesbo is a highly skilled and inventive crime writer whose expansive stories are filled with a vast panoply of memorable characters.

The Devil’s Star is the third novel featuring tormented Oslo police detective Harry Hole. Hole embodies the classic detective in this genre who is battling the twin demons of alcohol and a shattered personal life. A lesser writer might turn this character into a flat cliche, but Nesbo brings Hole to life as a true original.

The story centers on a serial killer who cuts off a finger of each victim and leaves a tiny red diamond on the body. Hole has run out of chances due to his alcoholism and his dismissal papers are awaiting the signature of the Chief, who has taken a three-week holiday. However, the Oslo police, desperate to nab the killer, enlist Harry’s unique skills since he is still on the payroll.

The case pits Harry against his nemesis, Thomas Waaler, a corrupt detective whom Harry tried unsuccessfully to bring to justice with disastrous results. Now the two enemies must work together to solve the case.

Nesbo gives readers a rich cast of characters, from an eccentric theater director whose wife is one of the victims, to an elderly woman who bore a child with a Nazi officer living in Oslo during World War II. There is a shadowy arms dealer living in Prague with his girlfriend. Nesbo introduces seemingly unrelated plot strands throughout that leave the reader wondering how they relate to the main story, but he ties them up nicely in the climax.

A rock musician, Nesbo peppers the story with references to musical artists as diverse as Duke Ellington, Iggy Pop, and the Violent Femmes. There are also numerous examples of the droll Scandinavian humor that add a hint of levity to the dark story.

When reading this book, the reader gets the feeling he is in the hands of a master. If you are looking for a roiling police procedural with a fascinating cast and stunning plot twists, Nesbo delivers with The Devil’s Star. I can’t wait to read more from him.

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