Jo Nesbø. The Son. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Nesbø hasn't failed his fans yet, even though this is a stand-alone novel without Harry Hole. Your reviewer finished it nicely on time to avoid stuffing it, a heavy hardcover, into my flight carry-on. It's about a young man, Sonny, bent on rehabilitation after leaving prison where he had chosen to be wrongfully incarcerated. His self-redemptive action plan throws the city of Oslo into an uproar. Police partners Simon and Kari do their best to follow and find Sonny on his murderous spree.
Nevertheless Sonny is one of those misguided but rather naive characters who elicits sympathy. If this was a film, the audience would cheer every time he eliminates another scumbag. An experienced social worker falls under his spell (oh yes, subplots). The interplay between Simon and Kari is great, even though Simon keeps the worry to himself about his wife's health. Ultimately, we wonder if Simon will find the treacherous mole who caused Sonny's problems or be forced to make a trade-off. Totally compelling with a long line of interesting characters, not to mention Nesbø's perfect pacing, tension, and surprises. I'm not the only one who suspects The Son might be the start of a new series.
Hostel interview, next of kin:
"So that your parents, friends or girlfriend can get in touch with you, for example."
He smiled ruefully. "I've none of those."
Martha Lian had heard this reply many times before. So many times it no longer made an impression on her. Her therapist called it compassion fatigue and had explained that it affected most people in the profession at some point. What worried Martha was that it didn't seem to get any better. Of course she understood that there is a limit to how cynical a person who worries about their own cynicism can be, but she had always been fuelled by empathy. Compassion. Love. And she was close to running on empty. So she was startled when she heard the words I've none of those touch something, like a needle causing an atrophied muscle to twitch. (82)
The cleaning lady, his confidante:
Simon leaned his head against the neck rest. "If you knew you were carrying the devil's son, would you still give birth to him, Sissel?"
"We've had this conversation before, Simon."
"I know, but what did you say?"
She sent him a reproachful look. "I said that nature sadly doesn't give the poor mother any choice, Simon. Or the father, for that matter."
"I thought Mr. Thou abandoned you?"
"I'm talking about you, Simon."
Simon closed his eyes again. He nodded slowly. "So we're slaves to love. And who we're given to love, that's a lottery too. Is that what you're saying?"
"It's brutal, but that's how it is," Sissel declared. (283)
Loyalty or betrayal?
Kari cleared her throat. She had planned what she had to say with all sorts of reservations and assurances that she hadn't come to tell tales, only ensure the quality of their work. But now, as she sat here with Parr, who seemed so relaxed and welcoming, who had even admitted he was goofing off, it felt more natural to get straight to the point.
"Simon is on a mission of his own," she said. (356)
Jo Nesbø. Blood on Snow. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2015.
Nesbø overkill, I know. But whaddaya do when two Nesbø books become available about the same time? Would that all favourite authors were thus prolific! Blood on Snow is a short novel, two hundred pages. It represents a slight change in style, making me think of the unique novels by Malcom Mackay. Because here the anti-hero is also a "fixer," a contract killer. An unlikely profession for Olav, the closet romantic, whose propensity for re-writing his life stories is all in his head. He loves Maria, he also loves Corina, but he lacks knowledge of love. His newest assignment to kill his boss's wife deeply shakes his self-image. Playing off Oslo's two criminal gang leaders against each other becomes his only way to survive. Something different and a must for Nesbø fans!
Anyway. To sum up, let's put it like this: I'm no good at driving slowly, I'm way too soft, I fall in love far too easily, I lose my head when I get angry, and I'm bad at math. I've read a bit, but I don't really know much, and certainly nothing anyone would find useful. And stalactites grow faster than I can write.
So what on earth can a man like Daniel Hoffman use someone like me for?
The answer is ‒ as you might have worked out already ‒ as a fixer.
I don't have to drive, and I mostly kill the sort of men who deserve it, and the numbers aren't exactly hard to keep track of. Not right now, anyway. (13)
"Sometimes the story I get into my head is completely different. So I sort of end up getting two stories for the price of one."
She laughed. A loud, bubbly laugh. Her eyes twinkled in the semi-darkness. I laughed too. It wasn't the first time I had told someone I was dyslexic. But it was the first time anyone had continued to ask questions. And the first time I had tried to explain it to someone who wasn't my mum or a teacher. Her hand slid off my arm. Sort of unnoticed. I'd been waiting for it. She was slipping away from me. But her hand slid into mine instead. And squeezed it. "You really are funny, Olav. And kind." (82-83)
This time the Volvo started at once.
I knew where I was going, but it was as if the streets had lost their shape and direction, becoming gently swaying tentacles of a lion's mane jellyfish that I had to keep swerving to follow. It was hard to see where you were in this rubber city where nothing wanted to stay as it was. I saw a red light and braked. Tried to get my bearings. I must have nodded off, because I jumped when the lights changed and a car behind blew its horn. I put my foot down. Where was this, was I still in Oslo? (190)
Martha Grimes. The Black Cat. New York: Viking/Penguin, 2010.
A change of pace from the above; Grimes is an author I haven't visited for a long time. Therefore I am not up on police superintendent Richard Jury's background or prior cases in a long series, some of which are referred to here. His odd relationships with Melrose Plant and Harry Johnson are leavened with much-appreciated humour. His relationships with several women are less transparent! The mystery concerning the deaths of three unrelated call girls flows smoothly from the pen of an expert. Interjecting a live black cat (or three of them) into The Black Cat pub seemed dubious at first ― who needs invented cutesy dialogue between Morris the cat and Mungo the dog? ― but eventually the purpose of the device is revealed. Clever Grimes.
Hospital, intensive care:
Jury sat for a few minutes watching her before he rose and walked round the room, back and forth, stopping to look at her. An effigy was what she reminded him of. The incomparable, commanding, relentless detective inspector Lu Aguilar, still as stone and helpless. What he felt now was that he would never be able to understand his feelings for her, what they had been. Or hers for him. That part of his mind would be still as stone and helpless, too. (107)
Boss. Wiggins had started this more edgy form of address. He was also rendering more opinions than usual. He frowned more. He contemplated more. "I hope you're not losing your common touch, Wiggins."
There it was. Wiggins frowned. "What do you mean?"
"That you're sounding more coplike. More Prime Suspect."
"She's a woman. Helen Mirren."
"I'm aware Helen Mirren is a woman. Her team calls her 'guv' and 'boss.'"
"But that's what we do, guv. There something wrong with that?"
"No. Not at all. Except you're sounding more like you're on our side."
Wiggins' frown deepened. "But ... whose side would I be on if not ours?"
"The other side. The poor bloody public's that's got to put up with us. As I said, you could be losing the common touch." (131-2)
A nine-year-old rakes Jury over the coals:
She sighed and shook her head, fielding one more disappointment. "Then why hasn't he found Morris? If he works for Scotland Yard, he ought to be able to find a cat. How does he keep his job?"
With as much condescension as he could muster, Melrose said, "He has missing people to look out for; he can't just―"
"But if he can't find a cat, how can he ever find a person? Finding people's a lot harder."
"I beg your pardon. It is much harder to find a cat than a person. A cat is much smaller and can get into places a person can't."
"A cat can't read street signs so it's harder for her to know where she is."
"Don't be silly, cats find things by instinct; they don't have to read." What point was being made? He'd forgotten. He rustled his paper and gave it a snap. (209-10)