Note: There are no spoilers for this book.
This is the latest police detective thriller in the Harry Hole series, and it brings back a number of characters from earlier books. On the surface it is a dark, gritty tale about competing drug gangs in Oslo, but the story goes much, much deeper. The roiling passions spilling out from those who are involved suggest there may be more to the murders being committed than competition for territory. Harry, though ostensibly no longer on the police force, has his own reasons to get in the investigation. Being a policeman is something Harry has difficulty giving up, even when it’s a life or death matter.
Discussion: As usual, Nesbo gives us clues throughout that we should have picked up, if only we had known where to look! Surely, we think, as we metaphorically pace back and forth in our minds from the tension, Harry can see what we cannot! But as even Harry admits (in perhaps a meta comment on the book), our brains are always willing to see only the consoling answers needed by our hearts. All of the characters fall prey to this fallacy.
Phantom is structured, in an important way, like James Joyces’ Finnegans Wake, which is to say, among other things, it is quite clever. It also is driven by the same Biblical and Shakespearian themes that characterize Joyce’s Ulysses. Intentionally or not, Nesbo has created a story that touches upon major chords of the human psyche. This is not just a superficial crime thriller.
Additionally, amidst the Dante-esque tour of Oslo’s drug underworld, Nesbo intersperses flights of literary beauty that shine glimmers of light on subterranean Oslo and its environs:
The long, slim feminine legs of the pine trees rose into the skirt of green that cast hazy afternoon shadows across the gravel in front of the house.”
Harry focused on the spruce trees. The little colour remaining was quickly sucked out of them, and now they stood like ranks of black uniformed silhouette-guardsmen. Then he heard her come over, felt her hand under his arm, her head against his shoulder, her hot cheek through his linen suit, and breathed in the perfume of her hair. … [She] had started crying and buried her face in his neck. The tears warmed his skin as they ran down inside his shirt, over his chest, over his heart.”
Evaluation: OMG. The mix of hope and love and pain broke my heart, all the way through, and left me absolutely bowled over. This is a must-read for fans of the Harry Hole series! Not recommended as a standalone – one should be aware of Harry’s story from at least The Snowman onward.
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012
Note: Sandy and I are cross-posting reviews on Phantom today. Stop by and read what she has to say!