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A READER'S JOURNAL
ARJ2 Chapter: Reading for Enjoyment
Published by Alfred Knopf/NY in 2013
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2013
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A rape of a fourteen-year-old girl at a summer camp many years ago in Østgård, a hit on Salvation Army worker Robert Karlsen in Oslo during Christmas season, and young man who is a runner during the Serbian-Croatian War blows up tanks by hiding in hollows in the ground and affixing mines to tanks as they rolled past — these three are parts of a multi-faceted drama triangle that Harry Hole joins as he seeks out the hitman.
We meet the hitman early. He is the eponymous character of the novel, first known as the "little redeemer" for saving his comrades from the ravaging Serbian tanks. He wore a red necktie tied as a cravat, which name we learn comes from Croatia originally. One last job, his boss in Zagreb had promised him, one last job. But that last job turns out to be a "black hole" that sucks him ever deeper, a Harry Hole, six foot and four inches of a "sullen alcoholic" and brilliant detective. When the hit takes place in the first twenty pages, we know it will not be a clean and simple flight back to Zagreb and retirement. His skills in evading the Serbian army and destroying its tanks is tested in Oslo as he discovers he has killed the wrong man and he must stay to finish his job in the wintry city where the "day is a blink between dawn and dusk".
Harry is hobbled when a black Metzner dog attacked him as he was halfway up a fence and wouldn't let go until Harry dumps his hip flask into its mouth and the drunken dog finally lets go of Harry's leg and falls to the ground. But the dog bite becomes the crucial clue to discovering that it was the father who killed his own son with an overdose in the container by the dock that Harry had investigated before the dog bit him. A rape, a hit, a bite, and closed case in eight short chapters. Just a warmup for a Harry Hole novel.
Harry's new boss, Gunnar Hagen is a trip, coming up with stories intended to keep Harry pointed in the right direction apparently, such as this one.
[page 76, 77] "In 1942, a mere hundred thousand Japanese soldiers conquered Burma. Burma was twice the size of Japan and at that time occupied by British troops who were superior in numbers and firepower." Hagen raised his grubby forefinger. "But there was one area where the Japanese were superior, and this made it possible for them to beat the British and the Indian mercenaries: discipline. When the Japanese marched on Rangoon, they walked for forty-five minutes and slept for fifteen. Slept on the road wearing their backpacks and their feet pointing toward their destination. So that they didn't walk into the ditch or in the wrong direction when they woke up. Direction is important, Hole. Do you understand?"
Harry had an inkling of what was to come. " I understand that they made it to Rangoon, boss."
After Gunnar makes his point that the Japanese followed directions and that Harry should learn that lesson also, he dismisses Harry, but Harry doesn't leave, finally asking his boss, "Mm, I was wondering. Didn't the Japanese lose the war?" He gave his boss a lesson in how Harry operates. What bosses don't know is just what war it is that each of their employees is fighting. As infuriating as Harry could be to his boss, he is to his readers, refusing easy answers to whodunit and making us stick to the very end before all is revealed.
Hit men travel light, especially so those who must travel by air. This hitman, called Christo Stankic on his passport, had a take-apart gun with seven bullets which he carefully packed with its pieces and ammo disguised from X-rays by the metal corners of his small suitcase. Having to stay in Oslo to make another hit on the right man, he runs low on bullets, and has to improvise weapons. His credit card is tracked down by Harry's men, and is taken when he tries to withdraw cash. He has to lose his winter coat to keep from being recognized, is forced to find ways to acquire shelter and food without any money. His solution to a food source no doubt pleased Harry when he found out. A little Chinese barbeque.
Harry answers the door at Jon's place when the hitman visits his re-acquired target and the appearance of a man with a cravat tie triggers Harry into action in time to deflect the bullet intended for Jon's head, but Stankic gets away, short another bullet in his gun. We readers are now doing a countdown of the bullets left in his gun. When it gets down to just one bullet left, Harry's partner Halverson is attacked with a glass shard instead of being shot, keying us readers into suspecting it was Stankic conserving his last bullet.
Harry visits his former boss, Bjarne Møller, in Bergen, a place Nesbø describes this way:
[page 198] Harry stepped out into a sad, gonorrheal discharge of a Bergen squall, which, according to myth, starts one afternoon in September and finishes one afternoon in March.
Bjarne tells Harry that Gunnar is more than a lecturer, that he was in the special forces unit, FSK, for seven years, a unit set up to protect oil rigs in the North Sea and which, because of security clearances, never appears on anyone's resume. Bjarne's advice to Harry is, "Follow the money."
Meanwhile Ragnhild Gilstrup goes over to Jon's place, slips past the police tape, and destroys an incriminating letter, and begins vacuuming up any evidence of her ever being there, aiming to dump it all down the trash chute of the high rise apartment building, only she ends up there herself.
Desperate for food and shelter from the bitter Oslo winter, Stankic finds the container that Harry had investigated earlier by the dock and meets the same dog that bit Harry's leg. This time the dog unfortunately grabs Stankic's hand with his revolver and closes his mouth on the trigger finger and there goes the last bullet from his gun. And the dog bites the dust. Stankic now has both shelter and food. But he needs help from his boss in Zagreb and places a call to the Hotel International there. Meanwhile Harry has discovered Stankic's Croatian name, mali spasitelj, which means "little redeemer". With these sparse clues, he flies on his own to Zagreb and finds Stankic's boss and makes a deal.
While Harry's in Zagreb, he hears about the meat identified as Metzner dog in Stankic's vomit, and tells his boss to surround the container but make no arrest till he gets back to Oslo. Too late, the man in container sticks his head out and is shot by a sniper posted by Gunnar. Stankic is dead the newspapers proclaim the next day, but it is too soon for case to be closed. Harry needs more evidence, there's the thing about following the money, and who was killing all these people. Stankic had only two people to kill and then he could leave Oslo, were all these other people collateral damage? Is Harry the latest target of Stankic who now has Harry's gun and ammo?
Where's Stankic? Where's Jon? Where's Martine — was she the only rape victim? Who actually flew to Zagreb on Robert's passport? Who stuffed Ragnhild down the chute? Where's the money? Can Harry keep the deal he made with Stankic's boss in Zagreb in exchange for the vital information he got to help solve the case? The last few chapters will keep you awake late into the night, dear Reader, dragging you along with Harry to the final pages in breathless anticipation.
Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne
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