My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Jo Nesbo is a trickster. He delights in providing false clues and leading his readers down long winding paths and into the weeds. One can almost see him rubbing his hands together and chortling with glee when the reader realizes he/she has been fooled once again.
The landscape of a Nesbo novel is littered not so much with red herrings as with red whales and the stench of those decaying red whales becomes pervasive by the time one has read halfway through the book.
Well, this is the eighth book that I have read in the Harry Hole series and, by now, I am on to Nesbo's tricks and not so easily fooled. I know, for example, that when Harry thinks he has the murders solved by the middle of the book, and again at the two-thirds mark, it's going to turn out to be the wrong - or an incomplete - solution.
After a while, all those false clues and misdirection become seriously annoying. The reader feels as though the author is straining to find yet another way to pull the wool over his/her eyes. The effort is very noticeable and distracting. This method of writing was there in the earlier books as well but it has never been so prevalent as in The Leopard.
But that's not the only thing that I found annoying about this book.
The sadism! My god, the sadism! Again, it feels as though Nesbo is straining every cell of his brain to come up with more and more brutal and sadistic ways of killing people and he tells us all about it in great and loving detail. Such a cruel torture murder is the way this book begins and I found myself skipping over several pages in the very first chapter, because I didn't want to read about the doomed woman's terror and suffering.
Subsequently, I skipped or skimmed lightly over many pages in the book, because, once again, we are dealing with a killer of several people; not really a classic serial killer but a mass killer who loves to torture his victims first, nevertheless. Definitely not something that I can enjoy reading.
The story is the basic one we've come to expect with Harry. He's down and out in Hong Kong after capturing the Snowman and saving Rakel and Oleg from his clutches. But afterwards, Rakel took Oleg and fled and Harry found no reason to stay in Norway and continue to do his job. Now he spends his time gambling and smoking opium to ease his pain.
When bad things start happening in Oslo, his boss sends a policewoman to bring Harry home because they need his expertise to again catch what may be a serial killer. Harry refuses, but then the policewoman plays her ace - it seems that Harry's father is in the hospital, seriously ill. He reluctantly agrees to return but not to get involved in the investigation.
Once back in Norway, of course, Harry can't resist the pull of the mystery surrounding the deaths of three (so far) women. Soon, he's back in the harness again.
The catch here is that the victims appear completely unconnected to one another, but Harry's instinct tells him that they are connected and that, in order to solve the crimes, he must find that connection. Do we ever doubt that he will?
This book aims to be surprising but, in fact, it is utterly predictable. It is disgusting in the descriptions of torture of the victims but still predictable in the arc of its story and in the outcome. The only reason the book gets two stars in my rating instead of one is that I do have a residual liking for the character of Harry Hole and I enjoyed the parts where he interacts with his dying father, with his boyhood friend, and with some of his colleagues at work, but he strained my affection to its limits here. I won't be picking up another Harry Hole mystery for a while. Maybe eventually the bad taste left by this one will fade and I'll remember the good times of the earlier books and decide to give Nesbo another chance, but first I'll have to be assured that his romance with sadism has run its course. He is a talented writer. It is a shame to see him waste his talent on dreck.
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