Wednesday, March 26, 2008
revisiting Jo Nesbø
It's rare for me to reread a crime novel until a considerable time has passed (are there some of you out there who do reread them frequently?). Plot is too easily remembered and too much a part of most crime fiction to get a lot of pleasure out of rereading a book that you remember fairly well. But I just finished rereading Jo Nesbø's Devil's Star, because of the disturbed order in which the novels have been translated. The most recently translated, Nemesis, leaves a plot line unfinished that reaches its conclusion in Devil's Star, which actually was the first of the author's books to be translated into English. Since it had been several years since I read Devil's Star, when it was first out, I decided to follow the hanging plot on to the end (again) and also to see whether Devil's Star holds up to a rereading. My conclusion: Devil's Star is probably the best of the 3 Nesbø books we have in English. Nesbø specializes in red herrings and false conclusions, and there are plenty of them here--but fewer than in Nemesis, and to better effect. There are lots of plot elements that could have been cliches (serial killer, blood diamonds, a Nazi past, devil worship, and so on) but Nesbø cleverly undermines the cliche elements and uses each of them in a positive, believable manner. I should also correct one thing I've said before: that Devil's Star begins with a bravado performance that follows a drop of blood through a 100-year-old house. Actually it's rainwater that the narrator follows as it flows into the house, tracing the construction methods and materials along the way through the cracks and picking up a few drops of fresh blood along the way (plus some blood mixed in with the builder's mortar in the original construction): the elegance of that narrative performance actually carries right through the novel, which repeatedly returns to water and to building materials, straight through the end when Harry Hole, the main character of the series, tastes the same egg-like flavor that appears in that first chapter, a sign of the blood in the mixed mortar. One advantage of rereading a large and well-written novel is that, with the plot less important to the reading experience, the structural metaphors of the story (which are in this case, indeed, structural metaphors) become clearer. Regarding characters, the naturalism of Nesbø's style keeps them lively even in a re-encounter. Someone responded to my previous post on Nesbø with a request to explain what I meant when I said that Hole was more "real" than some other Scandinavian fictional detectives, such as Irene Huss--what I mean is that Hole is more completely realized in his internal life, in all its inadequacies, failings, accomplishments, addictions, and so forth. Compared to Hole, Huss seems a bit naive (especially in The Torso), though I must admit that her balance between career and family is perhaps a more "real" reflection of a police detective's life than the more dramatic extremes of Hole's life. But though Irene is sympathetic and fully realized, Hole is more memorable as a character per se (not a good thing, I suppose, if you follow the logic of some of the original pulp noir novels, whose heroes were fairly anonymous). Any arguments, about that statement or my assessment of Nesbø and Devil's Star?