My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Early on in The Snowman, a man comes to Inspector Harry Hole's apartment claiming that he is inspecting the building and treating it for mold. He tells Harry that the inspection and the treatment may take several days during which he will need access to the apartment.
Harry is on his way out the door to go to work and does he question the man - except to ask for how much it will cost - or ask for any identification or verification that he is legitimate? Nope! He simply hands over his spare door key and leaves for work.
The reader thinks, "Is this really the action of Oslo's best detective?" And her second thought is, "Oh, Harry, this isn't going to end well!"
Meanwhile, at work, Harry's team has gained a new member, Katrine Bratt, who seems like a feminine version of Harry. The team needs all the help it can get because very bad things are happening in Oslo.
Women are disappearing, often without a trace. In one instance a trace is found - the woman's severed head sitting atop a giant snowman. In another, the woman's mobile telephone is found inside a giant snowman.
All of the disappearances (and presumed murders) take place after a snowfall and snowmen are found near the scenes of the disappearances, thus the perpetrator comes to be known as Snowman.
There are few clues at first. Looking for connections, Katrine realizes that all the women are mothers who are either married or are in stable relationships. And furthermore, a search of police records turns up other unsolved disappearances and murders that seem to fit the pattern. There is also the unsolved disappearance of a detective from another town, a detective who had been investigating a local murder of a woman and the disappearance of her best friend. When he disappeared, his colleagues with the police decided that he must have been the perpetrator and they stopped looking for any other suspect.
The narrative of the story switches back and forth between the historical disappearances and murders and the current day ones in Oslo, and Harry and his team search desperately for links and something that will lead them to the source of the evil that is terrifying their city. Time and again, they believe they are closing in on the culprit, only to have it turn out that they are following a blind alley and sniffing red herrings.
Jo Nesbø is a master of red herrings and misdirection. He liberally sprinkles his narrative with clues but figuring out which ones are relevant is the problem. A couple of times, I thought I had solved the mystery and unmasked the murderer. Both times I was dead wrong. I did finally suspect the real perpetrator but I couldn't discern any reason for his actions. Well, that was because Nesbø hadn't actually given us any until a long expository chapter that explains all, near the end of the book. In fact, the intricate plot of this book kept me guessing all the way through.
The character of Harry Hole continues to grow on me. I find him enormously likable and entertaining. He finally seems to be getting a handle on his alcoholism in this book and his relationship with Rakel, though officially over, continues, and his ties to Rakel's son, Oleg, are unbreakable and serve to humanize him further. Oleg, too, is a very appealing character and badly in need of a father figure. He has selected Harry for the job.
Finally, here's a tip of the hat to the translator, Don Bartlett. Reading a book in translation is always a dicey affair, one that can be hit or miss. When Bartlett is on the job, the reader can count on a hit. His translations flow and sound as if they might actually have been written in English. Jo Nesbø is very lucky that Bartlett is the one interpreting his words to those of us in the English-speaking world.
This suspenseful book has whetted my appetite for more Harry Hole. I'm looking forward to getting on with the series.
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