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The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

The Redbreast (original 2000; edition 2007)

by Jo Nesbo, Don Bartlett (Translator)

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2,7321042,154 (3.82)293
Title:The Redbreast
Authors:Jo Nesbo
Other authors:Don Bartlett (Translator)
Info:Harper (2007), Hardcover, 528 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Oslo, Norway, neo-Nazis, Nazi occupation, World War II, assassination, crime fiction

Work details

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø (2000)


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English (93)  German (3)  Norwegian (2)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (104)
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[Cross-posted to Knite Writes]

It's the winter of the new millennium, and Oslo Detective Harry Hole's life is...actually not too bad.

Until he makes a mistake during a crucial political visit by the US President that almost a costs a Secret Service agent his life -- to be fair, though, it wasn't really Harry's fault. Nonetheless, while Harry drowns his guilt in alcohol in the ensuing weeks, his superiors decide to "reward" him for his service instead of vilifying him to make sure the whole incident stays under wraps. So Harry gets promoted from a Crime Squad Detective to a POT Inspector, which means he gets promoted from doing what he actually wants to do and relegated to mind-numbingly boring surveillance desk work.


Of course, Harry being Harry, he doesn't let his new job stop him from finding a potential serious case: while shuffling through reports one day, he comes across a record regarding the illegal import of a Märklin rifle, a discontinued German weapon capable of basically obliterating anything that gets in its way (hence the discontinuation), including people. Curious about why someone would spend so much money to smuggle one of these rare weapons into Norway, Harry petitions his new boss, Meirik, to let him research the case.

He discovers the weapon was brokered by someone named the Prince, a mysterious arms (and other "products") dealer who appears to have some significant level of power in the criminal underworld. Harry tasks his former detective partner and sorta-kinda protege, Ellen, to attempt to figure out the Prince's identity. Meanwhile, Harry tracks down the man who sold the rifle in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has a brief chat with him that eventually leads to the revelation that the person who purchased the rifle was an old man, possibly a war veteran.

Unfortunately, (as is usually the case for Harry), while he's taking a short, forced break from his case to attend a holiday party with his new coworkers, tragedy strikes. Ellen uncovers the identity of the Prince -- her own temporary detective partner and the bane of Harry's existence, Tom Waaler. Ellen tries to get ahold of Harry, but he doesn't pick up his phone -- because he's dancing with his new love interest, Rakel -- and in the most frustrating example the vague, ominous phone call trope in history, she leaves a message on his answering machine that only says "We got him!" You know, instead of an actual name.

And then Tom Waaler has a Neo-Nazi brutally murder her with a baseball bat to keep his identity concealed.

Harry is devastated and temporarily falls off the wagon, but his desire to uncover who killed Ellen and his kindling relationship with Rakel get him back on his feet long enough to jump into his rifle case again. As Harry has connected Neo-Nazis with the Prince and the mysterious rifle buyer, Harry manages to narrow down the murder suspect list to one Sverre Olsen, whom Harry almost had put away for three years after he beat a man of foreign descent...with a baseball bat.

Harry tries to bring Olsen in, but Tom Waaler heads him off and kills Olsen before Harry can get any information on the Prince, playing the "self defense" card. Ellen's murder is considered closed after Olsen's death, and Harry is left frustrated, sure there is more to the story...and to Tom Waaler.

Eventually, Harry uncovers a series of threads that all lead back to World War II, concerning a group of Norwegian soldiers who fought for the Germans and were later convicted of treason and sent to jail after the war ended. The story of these soldiers, which begins in the 1940s, plays out alongside the modern day murder mystery as a series of flashbacks, and at the end of the novel, all the twists are unraveled.

After the untimely death of his friend and comrade, Daniel Gudeson, a soldier named Gudbrand Johansen murdered another comrade, Sindre Fauke, and claimed that Fauke deserted to the Russians. While recovering from a injury in Austria, Johansen falls in love with a nurse named Helena, who's being pressured (and downright blackmailed) into marrying a doctor she doesn't like in order to restore her damaged family's social and economic standing. After said doctor destroys Helena and Johansen's attempt to elope together by threatening Helena's smother, Johansen murders the doctor to free Helena and flees Austria, returning to Norway under the assumed identity of Sindre Fauke and joining the Norwegian resistance of the German occupation.

It's revealed that Johansen is suffering from a multiple personality disorder, and his other personality is that of the late Daniel Gudeson, who is furious at the way the Norwegian government treated the soldiers who fought for the Germans after the war ended. Several years after he resettles in Norway and the war fades into memory, he sends a letter to Helena, and the woman of his dreams is able to return to him. They finally marry, have a daughter, Rakel Fauke (yes, that Rakel), and live a happy life until Helena dies.

As Johansen (still using Fauke's identity) nears the end of his life, he develops terminal cancer, and the personality of Daniel Gudeson, still angry at past wrongs, reemerges after many years of being dormant. The second personality concocts a plan to murder a member of the Norwegian royal family, whom Gudeson blames for his "betrayal" of the soldiers.

During his assassination preparations, Johansen/Gudeson stumbles across a series of papers at his daughter, Rakel's, house that reveal a nefarious plot by one Bernt Brandhaug, Under Secretary For Foreign Affairs. Rakel is in the middle of a custody dispute with the alcoholic, abusive, and unfortunately wealthy Russian father of her young son, Oleg, and Brandhaug uses his connections to get her custody hearing delayed indefinitely.

But he dangles this over Rakel's head as extortion material, revealing himself to be a disgusting misogynist and rapist who will do whatever it takes, short of actual physical violence, to get the women he "must have" and "deserves to have" to sleep with him. He forces Rakel to break off her growing relationship with Harry and tries to get her to sleep with him, but she shows up drunk and dead-eyed to their first rendezvous, and he calls it off after a few rounds of unfruitful molestation. But he promises to try again.

Luckily, Johansen/Gudeson/Fauke, her father, finds the evidence of this extortion, and decides to shoot Brandhaug with his shiny new rifle for messing with daughter. Brandhaug is brutally murdered outside his own home, and his murder successfully throws off the police, even as Johansen leaves clues in the right places to allow Harry to ultimately find out the truth. When the time is right. After his planned assassination is a success.

But Harry manages to unravel the threads a bit too quickly. After Signe Juul, Gudeson's ex-fiancee is "executed" for her betrayal in marrying Even Juul to get out of her treason xharge, and poor Even Juul is forced to hang himself with a leash by an armed Johansen, Harry manages to put the pieces together at the crucial moment.

He tracks down the hotel where Johansen plans to make the killer shot and manages to stall him long enough for the man's cancer to incapacitate him. So Harry saves the day and gets the girl (Rakel), but he loses his beloved partner, Ellen, and the Prince is still out there...

The End.

Cue sequel!


My Take

I have to say the reader consensus on this series is correct -- it really doesn't get good until Book 3. I previously reviewed Cockroaches, the second Harry Hole book, after DNFing The Bat, the first in series, and I mentioned that I would give this series a chance to get on its legs. Well, it finally has, and I'm glad I stuck around long enough for it to get there.

I really enjoyed the colorful cast of characters in this book. We have cops, politicians, ex-soldiers, Neo-Nazis, and an array of other interesting secondary characters that really keep this book going at all times. While there are a few lulls in the plot here and there, the characters keep the story running strong, and the most interesting aspect of the book is how tightly interconnected all these characters are, how the actions and motivations of one affect the others, cause chain reactions that will reverberate in character development for many books to come.

The plot of this book, in full, wasn't too shabby either. It did get a bit slow every now and then, but the characters managed to keep me immersed in the novel even when the events around them weren't particularly interesting. Overall, this book shapes up to be a great murder mystery, one built through a rich and well-researched history of Norway and World War II, although it does take some time to build -- but once it hits that final mad dash toward the climax, it really reels you in.

That said, there were few a things here and there that annoyed me. The author pulls one of those phone call scenes where a character doesn't reveal crucial information -- for no supportable reason -- in order to keep that information hidden from the protagonist long enough to artificially escalate a conflict between the protagonist and a major antagonist. I hate that trope -- the "unfinished" or "too vague" phone call -- because it so often requires a perfectly intelligent character to act several grades dumber than usual in order for it to work properly. As in this case.

I think that was the one event that annoyed me most in this book, that stupid phone call.

Other than that, I thought the plot could have played out stronger, especially in the middle, where it dragged, and I think the book could have gone without so much heavy-handed foreshadowing and questionable use of dramatic irony.

But, all in all, it was a pretty good read, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.


Is It Worth Reading?

Do you like murder mysteries? Thrillers? Crime novels? Police procedurals? History? If so, you're in luck: this is the book for you.



3.5/5 ( )
  ClaraCoulson | Nov 16, 2015 |
Full disclosure: Murder mysteries are not us. And this one particularly was not. I found it slow, ponderous, overly "produced" with too many cuts and jumps from multiple pasts to the present, which only succeeded in delaying revelations and creating opportunities to withhold information from the reader that would have been better handled with far fewer chronological interruptions.

The action was very slow, interrupted by the odd murder or two from past and present. However, all the delay tactics adopted by the author did little to hide the villain despite red herrings abounding. Harry Hole, the hero of a series of police procedurals by Nesbø is uninteresting to me, flat, and without any life interest other than his work and no quirks other than his alcoholism, pretty standard fare for the disgruntled detective.

I've read several Scandinavian noir authors such as Høeg, Mankell, and Petterson, all of whom are more skilled at creating characters, plotting story, and moving action. I'll pass on Nesbø. ( )
  Limelite | Nov 16, 2015 |

Norwegian detective Harry Hole dealing with a very complex murder plot which in this case has political implications going right to the top of the Norwegian government and reaching back to the grim reality of Norway's relationship with Nazi Germany during the second world war. It's grittily described and the eventual solution makes sense, with an unresolved plot thread which apparently leads to two more books in the Harry Hole sequence. I was not completely convinced by the use of multiple personality disorder as a major plot point though; it seems to me a bit of a magical cop-out for a mystery writer, and I suspect even though everyone in literature with MPD is a murderer, this may not be true of everyone with MPD in reality! Still, I enjoyed it. ( )
  nwhyte | Sep 12, 2015 |
Harry Hole is in Norway this time, and when he gets "mysteriously" promoted to Inspector in another division, he's put on to a Neo-Nazi case that's going nowhere. But then his old partner is found beaten to a pulp, right after she rang him about something extremely important to do with a rare type of gun being illegally imported in to Norway and he's racing against time to try and find it-and its owner.

The Harry Hole books are great reads. They're fast-paced, wonderfully written (or translated) and keep your attention for hours. But they can be read straight through in a day and aren't specifically engaging, though I am early-on in the series so I'm sure Mr Nesbo got better with age and experience. ( )
  Xleptodactylous | Apr 7, 2015 |
i was a bit skeptical when i started reading this book as this was my first JO NESBO... and fairly enoough the starting was very slow so i thought that i had got myself a bad deal...bt soon as the pages lept turning the mystrey started building and at one point of time the mystry bcame so fanatical that i had to suppress a huge urge to gt to the final pages and know what the mystry was...

so all in all it was a good read..
and the way nesbo has connected n convrtd the story...itz a definit pageturnr ( )
  abhidd1687 | Mar 26, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nesbø, Joprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andersen, Allan HiltonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bartlett, DonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bartulović, MislavTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caspi, DanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Čuden, DarkoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
노진선Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Font i Mateu, LaiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fouillet, AlexTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frauenlob, GüntherTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horáková, ŠtěpánkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Inōe, EtsukoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Menna, OutiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mihăeș, LorenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montes Cano, CarmenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olaisen, PerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paunovska, AnetaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Puleo. GiorgioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saʻd al-Dīn, MarwānTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shtrykova, A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taş, RabiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vroom, Annelies deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimnicka, IwonaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
林立仁Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Maar stilaan vatte hij moed, vloog dichterbij
en trok met zijn snavel een doorn, die in het hoofd
van de gekruisigde was gedrongen, uit.

Maar terwijl hij dit deed, viel er een druppel bloed van de
gekruisigde op de keel van de vogel. Die verspreidde zich snel
en kleurde al zijn zachte borstveertjes.

Maar de gekruisigde deed zijn lippen van elkaar en fluisterde tegen
de vogel: "Door jouw barmhartigheid heb je nu verworven wat je voorgeslacht
al sinds de schepping van de aarde begeerd heeft.

- Selma Lagerlöf - Christuslegende

But little by little he gained courage, flew close to him, and drew with his little bill a thorn that had becomw embedded in the brow of the Crucified One.  And as he did this there fell on his breast a drop of blood from the face of the Crucified One - it spread quickly and floated out and colored all the little fine breast feathers.Then the Crucified One opened his lips and whispered to the bird:'Because of thy compassion, thou hast won all that thy kind have been striving after, ever since the world was created.'

Selma Lagerlöf, Robin Redbreast, Christ Legends
First words
A grey bird glided in and out of Harry's field of vision
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Maar stilaan vatte hij moed, vloog dichterbij
en trok met zijn snavel een doorn, die in het hoofd
van de gekruisigde was gedrongen, uit.

Maar terwijl hij dit deed, viel er een druppel bloed van de
gekruisigde op de keel van de vogel. Die verspreidde zich snel
en kleurde al zijn zachte borstveertjes.

Maar de gekruisigde deed zijn lippen van elkaar en fluisterde tegen
de vogel: "Door jouw barmhartigheid heb je nu verworven wat je voorgeslacht
al sinds de schepping van de aarde begeerd heeft.

- Selma Lagerlöf - Christuslegende

Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Information from the Russian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
It is 1944: Daniel, a soldier, legendary among the Norwegians fighting the advance of Bolshevism on the Russian front, is killed. Two years later, a wounded soldier wakes up in a Vienna hospital. He becomes involved with a young nurse, the consequences of which will ripple forward to the turn of the next century.

In 1999, Harry Hole, alone again after having caused an embarrassment in the line of duty, has been promoted to inspector and is lumbered with surveillance duties. He is assigned the task of monitoring neo-Nazi activities; fairly mundane until a report of a rare and unusual gun being fired sparks his interest. Ellen Gjelten, his partner, makes a startling discovery. Then a former soldier is found with his throat cut. In a quest that takes him to South Africa and Vienna, Harry finds himself perpetually one step behind the killer. He will be both winner and loser by the novel’s nail-biting conclusion.

Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061134007, Paperback)

Detective Harry Hole embarrassed the force, and for his sins he’s been reassigned to mundane surveillance tasks. But while monitoring neo-Nazi activities in Oslo, Hole is inadvertently drawn into a mystery with deep roots in Norway’s dark past—when members of the nation’s government willingly collaborated with Nazi Germany. More than sixty years later, this black mark won’t wash away, and disgraced old soldiers who once survived a brutal Russian winter are being murdered, one by one. Now, with only a stained and guilty conscience to guide him, an angry, alcoholic, error-prone policeman must make his way safely past the traps and mirrors of a twisted criminal mind. For a hideous conspiracy is rapidly taking shape around Hole—and Norway’s darkest hour may still be to come.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:51 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"Detective Harry Hole embarrassed the force, and for his sins he's been reassigned to mundane surveillance tasks. But while monitoring neo-Nazi activities in Oslo, Hole is inadvertently drawn into a mystery with deep roots in Norway's dark past, when members of the government willingly collaborated with Nazi Germany. More than sixty years later, this black mark won't wash away--and disgraced old soldiers who once survived a brutal Russian winter are being murdered, one by one"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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