The Redeemer, By Jo Nesbo, trans Don Bartlett

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The Independent Culture

I will never feel happy confronting my vacuum cleaner now that Jo Nesbo has revealed its sinister possibilities. In fact, several items are seen in a radically new light in this grim thriller, with a novel use for decorations on the Christmas tree. For this is Harry Hole territory, that well-read Norwegian detective who spreads angst wherever he goes, yet solves one problem after another with his extraordinarily agile brain. Except when on the booze, of course, or having yet another disastrous sexual experience – an interlude here is interrupted by Harry's vibratingmobile phone.

Still, he stays off the alcohol pretty well, and this enables him to participate in a nightmarish triangular hunt as three psychopaths – a rapist, a hired assassin and Harry himself – stalk the streets of wintry Oslo. The city is brilliantly evoked with its horrible cargo of lost humanity, the drug addicts freezing to death because they sell everything - even the clothing that can mean the difference between life or death - to buy their fix.

Amid this despair, the Salvation Army is carrying out its charitable mission, its centres promising some hope amid the degradation. Yet even within its ranks an evil mentality seeks out its prey. Enter "the little redeemer", a paid gunman from Vukovar, with a history of social and political cruelties.

A deadly web is created after a shot rings out at a concert. Harry's regular team is on the hunt, including his colleague, Beate, who is blessed with an eidetic memory of every face she sees. But we learn that a special facial condition might be able to beat even her skills. Meantime, a larger plot is enacted which involves a wide-reaching network of bribery and corruption.

This complex narrative interweaves child abuse along with long-repressed desires for revenge and graphic physical violence. It is packed with psychiatric information about the making of criminals and the creation of sexual perversion within an intensely religious background. If you want a big book which tells you a lot with fast-moving narrative, it will keep you occupied. Yet The Redeemer is excessively long: too many kitchen sinks heaved into the plot. A leaner, meaner storyline and less of a mission to inform would have increased its literary qualities. All the same, some everyday items will never seem the same again: dog food, for instance.

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