Jo Nesbø – The Redbreast

★½

“Harry lit up, drew the smoke deep into his lungs and tried to imagine the blood vessels in the wall of the lung greedily absorbing the nicotine. Life was becoming shorter and the thought that he would never stop smoking filled him with a strange satisfaction.” 

Title: The Redbreast (Harry Hole #3)
Author: Jo Nesbø
Language: English (Originally Norwegian)
Publication details: London: Vintage, 2006. (First published 2000)
Pages: 618

The gist of it:

  • Harry Hole, worn down inspector. Good at what he does.
  • Rare gun used to kill people. Harry is on the case.
  • World War 2, Neo-Nazis and vengeful people.
  • Investigations, connecting the dots, diary entries and more.

My ponderings:

I hate to say this, but after just finishing this book, my first impression of it is:

“Well, that took long enough.”

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Ha ha……ha.

I feel bad, especially when a majority of people seemed to have loved this book. But I really want to be honest with my review, and well, it is what it is.

I’ll start with the cons then go on with the pros.

Overall, this book just felt rather draggy to me. I find this rather ironic, since the cover blurbs seem to stress how “thrilling”, “fast-paced” and “gripping” the book is. The build up at the start was pretty good. Having read Nesbo’s other book, The Bat, I find him capable of starting off a story with an interesting hook. Unfortunately, the pacing just slows down from there.

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Le sigh.

A lot of irrelevant things seem to happen to Harry, particularly things around the office. Whenever he had to deal with the bureaucracy of the police force or his relationships with his colleagues, I just felt so darn bored. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy reading about the everyday routines and relationship dynamics of characters; they give me insight into the characters’ life. Done right, I can even chuckle at the monotony of his/her daily routine and even relate to the drag of social obligations. However, the way it is done in The Redbreast just didn’t perk my interest. It was dull to Harry, having to deal with all that crap, and it was dull to me too. Though this could be cited as the book being “realistic”, let’s remember that bored isn’t a feeling that should be resonated within the reader. I should be entertained by his boredom, not echoing it.

Then there was the time jumps between the era of WW2 (1940s) and modern day Norway (2000). At first, this premise piqued my interest. I’m a sucker for historical fiction, so I was really looking forward to the flashback chapters set in WW2. Unfortunately, the jumps between WW2 and modern day just left me feeling disjointed and confused. I got that whatever was happening in the WW2 setting was intended to be relevant in a way that the reader was not yet supposed to understand, but because of that, I often felt that the WW2 scenes were just getting in the way of Harry progressing with the case and making me read some extra scenes about soldiers which I didn’t know the importance of and frankly, didn’t really care about.

There was also a relationship flashback which I quite enjoyed, but it still felt totally separate from the modern day investigation. Overall, it was kinda messy and actually detracted from my reading experience. There were just too many characters, and too much going on at TWO different times. Once again, I feel like this jumping between timelines thing could actually be done really well and build up hype to an epic revelation, but in this case, it just fell flat. The flashbacks were crucial to the ending, but a part of me would rather have Harry reading about what happened or just have whatever happened occur in a one-shot chapter, and not inserted intermittently with the modern day chaps.

 

The prose of The Redbreast just didn’t flow well to me. I’m telling myself to give leeway to the book since it IS translated from Norwegian, but it’s just left me feeling dubious in picking up any other translated books in the future. All the sentences were really…basic. This was this and that was that. Pride and Prejudice had some of the most flowery prose I’ve ever read, and Child 44 served it up short and terse; however, the prose of these two books still left me in awe and instilled within me the atmosphere of the times and mannerisms of the characters. The writing in The Redbreast felt a bit like unseasoned steak. It was ok…but just that. It was very basic and plain, and made reading it a bit of a chore to me. I didn’t feel immersed in any sort of atmosphere, I was just reading a story and trying to find out the ending. Which is alright, I suppose, just not great.

Once again, I did try to forgive The Redbreast since it is a translated book, but I’m currently reading Madame Bovary, which is translated from French, and the prose actually quite delights me. So now I’m just wondering if it’s a Norwegian translation issue, or Nesbo’s writing itself.

 

Ok, now that I’m done with all my complaints, The Redbreast did have its moments.
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…go on…
I actually really liked Harry as a character. I’ve always had a thing for noir detectives, and Harry is like the modern-day version of one. I liked how he could intimidate someone into spilling the beans just by staring them down.

 

Just like other noir detectives, he is flawed, really human, and prone to falling for lovely ladies with troubled pasts. I did indeed roll my eyes when he started falling for le troubled belle, but surprised myself by finding their romance rather sweet.

 

And just when I was thinking how very 007 it was for him to fall for the troubled (but lovely) dame, one of his officers actually made a reference to James Bond regarding Harry. So yeah. I totally called that one (though Harry is admittedly much less suave).
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Lovely AND troubled? Sign me up!

The death of his co-worker (not a spoiler, it was mentioned in the blurb) was actually quite a shocking moment for me, and left me feeling rather sad despite not even reading that much about her. She was such a bubbly characters, crucial to Harry though still very much a side character, that I didn’t expect her to die at all (despite it being, y’know on the blurb).

It’s funny because I feel like this is the shock that George R.R. Martin was trying for in GoT, yet in GoT I’m so prepared for characters to die I’m actually amazed when they survive! Anyway, how Harry dealt with her death was really touching to me, so this was a plus point in the book (still could have benefitted from better prose though *mumble, grumble*).

 

And as mentioned before, I did enjoy the relationship which took place in the 1940s. There was one scene where the city was being bombed and the couple just kept eating their dinner while the other patrons all fled helter-skelter from the restaurant. I like scenes which I can totally picture as cinematically, and yeah that was definitely one.

The pros of The Redbreast make it a 2 star, but the cons are enough to drag it down to a 1. At one point I was just reading it for the sake of getting to the ending so that I could find out who the killer was, and move on to my next book.

Normally I wouldn’t follow up on a book which I felt so averagely about, but since I impulsively bought The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil’s star in one go (curse me and my uncontrollable booklust), I can only hope that the other two will suit my taste better.

 

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I’m looking at you, Nemesis and The Devil’s Star. (⌐■_■)

Recommends it to: 
I don’t know really. I guess if you like thrillers and are prepared for some rather non-sequitur timeline jumping.
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