The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

Earlier this year, I watched the first season of the TV series ‘Borgen’, a political drama set in Denmark, and got completely hooked to the point where I began to convince myself that I could speak Danish.  However, with the exception of reading the Millennium Trilogy a couple of years ago, I am definitely lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to jumping on the Scandinavian crime fiction bandwagon and this week, I tried to rectify that by reading ‘The Redbreast’ by Jo Nesbo.

‘The Redbreast’ is the third book in the Harry Hole books but is the first one in the series that is available in English.  I can’t think of a good reason why the books have been published in completely the wrong order in the UK – the first instalment, ‘The Bat’ is due to be published soon – but at least ‘The Redbreast’ does work as a stand alone novel.  In this book, Harry Hole has been “promoted” to surveillance duties as an inspector after a security blunder.  However the discovery of an imported Marklin rifle triggers (excuse the pun) an investigation into a neo-Nazi organisation with roots tracing back to the Second World War.

‘The Redbreast’ contains exactly what you would expect in a crime fiction novel: it’s a fast paced and complex mystery which unravels very satisfyingly with an equally complex detective at the centre of it.  I would have preferred it if the scene hadn’t kept switching from the Second World War to the present day quite so frequently at the beginning as this made the story a bit confusing and difficult to get into.  If you read the book too slowly, it would be easy to lose track and give up.  However, perseverance through the first 150 pages or so does pay off and the second half of the book was more enjoyable with the ending leaving a few questions unanswered ready for the next book.

On the other hand, I was disappointed by some of the characters in the story which I thought were a bit clichéd.  The portrayal of Bernt Brandhaug particularly jarred with me and it was also hard to differentiate between the characters who fought in the war.  Whereas the real strength of the Millennium Trilogy lies in the brilliant character of Lisbeth Salander and her complex relationship with Mikhail Blomkvist, there is nothing as compelling as that in ‘The Redbreast’.  This is a shame as it prevents the book from being very good rather than just good.

‘The Redbreast’ isn’t the most original or the most unpredictable crime thriller but is still worth a read if you enjoy similar books.  I’m thinking of trying the Wallander series at some point and if I enjoy those books, then maybe I will be fully on the Scandinavian crime fiction bandwagon as opposed to just clinging on half-heartedly.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

  1. Oh, so they are finally going to publish the first 3? I’ve been hoping that they would so been putting of reading this book until then.

    I really want to watch Borgen – I missed it because my BBC iPlayer at the time (I rely on it to watch most TV) was screwing up and basically played things out of sync which is so annoying. But I did become obsessed with The Killing and I loved The Bridge. I also went on a bit of a… Scandinavian spree. I enjoyed Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen but didn’t like Smilla’s Sense of Snow by bah can’t remember the name. I also read a Danish historical… We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen if you fancy something a little different from crime.

    I read the first Wallander book – a solid start to a series if not the most gripping. I don’t think anything will quite stand up to the mighty force of Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander series.

    I want to read more Scandinavian literature as well. Like you, it wasn’t until after I watched The Killing that I started to really look at the books that were out there. I’d read Larsson’s trilogy of course but… there is so much out there. I’d like to read more non-crime Scandi novels too.

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    • I haven’t got round to watching The Bridge or The Killing yet. There is a second series of Borgen coming up (soon, I hope) so the first series will probably be repeated at some point. I’ll try and investigate the other Scandi books you’ve mentioned. Like you say, there’s a lot more than just crime fiction out there.

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  2. Try reading Camilla Läckberg. She’s pretty good. She’s a Swedish crime writer. They apparently call her the Swedish Agatha Christie. Check out The Ice Princess. It’s the first in her series. Nice post!

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  3. I stopped after the second book in the Millenium Trilogy; I didn’t like the way he wrote about women. I’ve read all of Mankell’s Wallender series and love them. I’ve dabbled elsewhere. The Sjowall and Wahloo series (forgive me for the lack of accents) is excellent.

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  4. I agree almost entirely with your Redbreast review. I had to do a fair bit of research to find the order of the books, have only read Redbreast and Nemesis so far, and still not sure I have the right order!

    I agree with you that it was confusing jumping between the war and the present day and I found it difficult to keep track of who the characters from the war period were. Otherwise I enjoyed the book.

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  5. I so know what you mean about convincing yourself you can speak Danish from watching Borgen! I haven’t read much Scandi crime – I found Wallander too dark and graphic which put me off the rest.

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  6. I had read the melenium series and the Leopold by Jo Nesbo before reading the Redbreast. The Leopold was loaned to me and i didn’t realize until i had started reading it was (at the time) the latest book.

    The redbreast seems a lot rawer and unrefined book compared to his last effort. I also found the backward and forwards switching between the past and the present distracting. I would have preferred to liner stories weaving in and out both climaxing at the same time as well as feeding background information when needed.

    I have just started reading Nemesis which i am find far more enjoyable.

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