Nemesis, By Jo Nesbo, trans. Don Bartlett

When a man's girlfriend is in Moscow, what's he to do? Kill his ex, of course
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The Independent Culture

Jo Nesbo creates instant tension in the opening pages of Nemesis. During a bank robbery, the teller is given 25 seconds to hand over the money. She exceeds the deadline by six seconds, and the robber shoots her dead, before he escapes leaving no forensic clues. But investigator Harry Hole and his female sidekick soon clock on to discrepancies in the CCTV footage, which leads them where no other cop thought to look.

Nemesis is the third of the Norwegian writer's novels translated into English, but the fourth of seven featuring Hole. Even though it may seem clichéd – the alcoholic cop with the knack for rubbing his superiors up the wrong way, who is always welcomed back into the fold because of his exceptional qualities as an investigator – Nesbo gives his understated story substance.

As Harry's girlfriend is in Moscow fighting for custody for her son, he gets back with an ex. When she is found dead in her bed in an apparent suicide, Harry suspects foul play. But as he has no recollection of what happened between meeting her and waking up in his own bed with a hangover, he has to tread carefully without drawing attention to himself.

As usual in Nesbo's crime novels, things are not quite what they seem. The plot twists and turns like an artfully constructed labyrinth; just as you think you've got it, you turn another corner and the landscape changes. His human insight is spot-on, whether into bent cops, nosy neighbours or shady players on the fringes of society. As for family relations, there are often deep undercurrents leading to dark secrets. His descriptions of Oslo are accurate, but presume a certain familiarity with the city, like Ian Rankin and Rebus in Edinburgh.

An economist by education, Renaissance man Nesbo co-founded the successful Norwegian band Di Derre in 1992. Working as a stockbroker by day and musician by night, he had his award-winning debut novel, The Bat Man, published in 1997. His second book translated into English, The Redbreast, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association's "International Dagger" in 2007. Although they can easily be read separately, there is a compelling continuity in the series. Nesbo's most recent novel, The Snow Man, sold 160,000 copies in its first week of publication in Norway. In the same vein, Nemesis is hugely enjoyable: Nesbo sustains the pace and suspense for nearly 500 exciting pages.

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