Continued from page 1

n n n

Take an alcoholic detective who has ruined most of his life and is on the edge of being fired and a sadistic serial killer whose victims are missing a finger and stamped with a red diamond shaped like a five- pointed star, and what else do you want in a thriller?

The setting is Norway, where the Oslo crime squad is strung out and stressed by its failure to capture the monster who has gotten away with lurid and vicious crimes. The anti-hero is detective Harry Hole, who knows that solving this case may be his last chance to live up to his reputation as a classic, hard-drinking lone wolf of a cop who is very good at his job when he is sober.

Nesbo makes no bones about how much of the problem Hole’s drinking is and how difficult it is for him to stay away from the bottle. The author also complicates an already intricate plot by playing Hole off against Tom Waaler, a fellow detective who is the golden boy of the police department, especially by comparison with Hole. Yet Hole has deep and strange suspicions about Waaler. It can be difficult to follow the track of not only the plot but its romantic ramifications as Hole struggles to retrieve another damaged relationship with a woman.

Meantime, the unmasking of the killer progresses, punctuated by scenes of sexual sadism clearly designed to distract the reader who just wants to know who the murderer is.

And he is whom you suspect, and he dies in a scene that wrings out every moment of melodrama and throws in a child at risk for good measure. By the time the smoke has cleared and the bloody remains of the killer have been mopped up, Hole is still his disheveled, gloomy self, but he isn’t drinking. When his boss congratulates him on his work and offers him a beer, Hole declines, observing grimly, “I’m an alcoholic.” It’s more than a small triumph.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.