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Is Jo Nesbo the world’s best crime novelist?

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A review of The Leopard: A Harry Hole Novel, by Jo Nesbo

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

If Jo Nesbo isn’t the world’s best crime novelist, he’s certainly making a play for the top of the list. For what it’s worth, anyway, I haven’t read anyone better at the game. The Leopard, one of the later entries among the ten detective novels in Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, portrays the conflicted Norwegian homicide cop in the depth of his complexity, pursuing a fiendish serial killer from Norway to the Congo.

The Leopard opens in Hong Kong, where Harry has fled to drown himself in alcohol and heroin following his resignation from the Norwegian police. A serial killer he captured too late had upended his life by separating Harry from the woman he loves. However, a clever young detective from Oslo manages to track him down and persuade him to return with her because he is urgently needed to take on a new high-profile case, the murder of a member of the Norwegian Parliament. Harry consents only because the young detective tells him that his father is seriously ill and confined to a hospital.

The novel functions well on three levels: a suspenseful story of how Harry and his colleagues pursue a brilliant serial killer, uncovering surprises all along the way; an insightful character study of a man wrestling with more than his share of demons as he suffers through the illness and eventual death of his father; and a highly perceptive tale of internal politics within the Norwegian police, focusing on the high-stakes rivalry between two police units that the Ministry of Justice threatens to merge, effectively eliminating Harry’s department and ending his career. Somehow, Nesbo packs all this into a novel of moderate length, managing as well to dip into the Congolese civil wars that center on the trade in coltan (used in cellphones) and touch on the brutal colonial history of the Congo. The Leopard is extraordinarily rich in fascinating detail.

For all that he writes such superb detective novels, Jo Nesbo is also a prominent rock musician and an author of children’s books. (To date, he has written a total of 17 books.) Oh, and he earned a degree from the Norwegian School of Economics, worked as a stockbroker, and was also a top-notch soccer player until he broke his ankle.

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Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers