Police, By Jo Nesbo. Harvill Secker, £18.99


Where is Harry Hole? Readers of Police will be asking that question for many worrying pages. To say that Jo Nesbo takes some audacious risks with our patience somewhat understates things. It's getting on for halfway through the book before the troubled alcoholic Norwegian copper appears, and we might be forgiven for thinking that he really did die at the end of Phantom.

Expectations are always high for a new Nesbo, but has the author tested our good will to breaking point by keeping his detective off stage for so long? While Harry is hors de combat, a ruthless murderer is killing police officers. The first to die is racked with guilt over a case he was unable to solve; the second victim has been unable to track down the man who raped and tortured a girl years before. Victims die in circumstances and locales very similar to those of the crimes with which they were involved.

The discovery of the second body comes during a night-time trip to a deserted ski hut by an employee of a ski lodge whose mind is on masturbation when he encounters a horrific discovery. It is this scene – a superb piece of suspense writing in the Thomas Harris vein – that answers the question as to whether or not there is a Hole-shaped hole in the narrative. When we finally meet Harry again he is teaching at a police academy in Oslo, his life and mental equilibrium as fraught as ever, though he seems to have his alcoholism in check. Nesbo piles problems on Harry's shoulders, including a false accusation of rape by an unstable female student.

Nesbo is concerned with notions of justice, guilt and the culpability of the police. Needless to say, Harry, with his already considerable residue of self-reproach, is the perfect conduit for this theme. Levels of violence remain fortissimo, and there is a new ratcheting up of heated sexual situations, in which ordinary sexual pleasure seems absent. It's in this area that Nesbo's detective suffers his most traumatic encounters – not with Harry's psychopathic opponent, but with his own desperate and shaming sexual feelings.