The Leopard – Jo Nesbo

The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, the sixth and latest in the English-language series of Harry Hole novels, sees the return of the much vaunted and loved Harry Hole, from his druggy and escapist bolt-hole in Hong Kong. Harry is brought back to assist in solving the latest series of connected murders in Norway, which are seemingly the work of a serial killer, possibly in the mould of the infamous Snowman.

Obviously I won’t go into the plot too much, as the devil really is in the detail in Harry Hole novels, and I wouldn’t want to risk ruining it for anyone. Suffice it to say, this is a typically very tightly written plot, as you would expect from Jo, and he proves once again to be a true master at manipulating his readers, by inducing them to believe in the guilt of a wide number of suspects, usually at the same time. Its amazing really how the book is written so that you could reasonably argue for the guilt of so many suspects, and yet at the same time leave people guessing as to what the definitive motive in the killings is.

There are some very interesting new characters introduced in this novel, of whom we will see more of in the future I am sure. Also, one particular favorite of mine, Katrine Bratt, was rehabilitated in this outing, but yet her characterization was a bit poor in terms of being one-dimensional and a bit predictable. Also, and without giving away too much plot, the whole “internet search engine” plot device was laughable and extremely naive, as well as seeming to act as a very cheap “way out” or plot enabler for Jo – quite disappointing. Jo does not have to be nerdishly tech-savvy of course, but using some fantastical and ridiculous oracular device to advance your plot is a bit much, especially for a writer such as Nesbo.

But for me, the most interesting thing about this book was the further progression of Harry along the path of becoming a seasoned killer – ironic, considering this is the guy who literally lives to catch killers. I’ve heard it discussed that Harry Hole is akin to Dirty Harry, but for me he is much closer to Hannibal Lector. I used to love the Harry Hole character, his determination to apprehend killers and to generally do right and good, arising I suppose from his yearning for justice. But now to be honest, I think I fear him. Fear him, as you would fear a person capable of making a decision to kill another human based solely on their own judgment, which lives outside of, and is usually contradictory to, societal norms.

Yes, Harry Hole I feel over the last few books has possibly developed a bit of a taste for killing, or at the very least of assuming the role of arbiter of life and death for a person, and thus definitely has a touch of the Hannibal Lector off him. There are definite echoes of Silence of the Lambs right at the end of the book, ala the “I’m having an old friend for dinner” classic Dr. Lector quote. Was this intentional by Jo Nesbo? Judging on the precise weight and meaning he seems to attach to every line of plot he writes, I would guess it is. The curious thing for me is that although I have a great affinity for the vile Dr Lector and his murderous escapades, the more murderous or blase Harry Hole becomes about killing, the less I find myself liking him.

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