Review of “Nemesis” by Jo Nesbo

Nemesis is in part a meditation on revenge and retribution. As Norwegian Detective Harry Hole says to a fellow police officer:

“Revenge and retribution. That’s the driving force for the midget who was bullied at school and later became a multi-millionaire, and the bank robber who thinks he has been short-changed by society. And look at us. Society’s burning revenge disguised as cold, rational retribution – that’s our profession, isn’t it.”

Indeed, as Harry discovers, it was the Greek goddess named Nemesis who was the goddess of revenge, an act considered to be punishment by some, but implacable justice by others. The imposition of revenge in both its senses is the main theme of this book.

The story concerns a string of bank robberies in Oslo including a murder during one of them, committed by an expert in the elimination of any clues. Some additional murders seem related, if by nothing else than by the unusual choice of guns used to commit them. When Harry Hole is on a case, nothing is predictable, and the story feels like a wild ride to an unexpected conclusion. And yet, when you think back on it, the crimes are only a vehicle for the character developments, even though they sneak up on you behind the excitement of the chase.

Discussion: This is the second book in the Detective Harry Hole series of books that was translated. English readers were, prior to this year, forced to read the books in order of translation rather than in the logical progression written by the author. As much as I hated reading the out of order, I thought this book was the best of all of them, so it worked out fine for me in the end.

Harry Hole is a detective either loved or loathed by his co-workers. Fortunately, his boss, Bjarne Moller, is one of Harry’s fans, even though he finds Harry to be an “alcoholic obstreperous, stubborn bastard.” He considers Harry a troublemaker, arrogant, and bullheaded, but one of his best investigators. It’s a cost-benefit ratio with which Moller grudgingly abides.

Harry is not thought of as blatantly handsome, but he seems to exude a great deal of sex appeal, and women in these books quickly come to overlook Harry’s other lapses.

It is in this book that we get to know most of the other “regulars” in the series as well. We meet Beate Lonn, a fellow officer who has a knack for facial recognition, and with whom Harry immediately bonds. We learn of the growing interest in Beate shown by Harry’s officemate, Halverson, and the growing treachery of another of Harry’s colleagues, Tom Waaler. And we see Harry’s struggles to stay in a monogamous relationship with his new love Rakel, currently in Russia fighting for custody of her young son Oleg. All of these plot strands will reappear in later books, and it was fun, illuminating, and in some instances bittersweet to revisit these characters back in the beginning.

Evaluation: Nesbo’s books are intelligent, complicated, and immensely rewarding as a reading experience. There isn’t one in the Harry Hole series I wouldn’t recommend. But if you have the opportunity to read them in order, it will be much less confusing, and there won’t be missing gaps in your appreciation of how events have turned out. I found Nemesis to be the least “standalone-esque” in this regard.

Rating: 4/5

Published in the U.S. by HarperCollins, 2009


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24 Responses to Review of “Nemesis” by Jo Nesbo

  1. sandynawrot says:

    I would have to agree with you, this one was particularly stellar. There was a scene near the end that was written almost like a screenplay, where every second or two took a page. So slow, it was poetic almost. I didn’t find that reading this one out of order was as spoiler-y as reading The Redeemer out of order. That one drove me nuts. I am hopelessly addicted to this series. I’m sad I only have one more to go…

  2. This is one author I want to try. I downloaded a few books to my Kindle so someday soon –I hope. I know you like to read in series order, but do you think it is a must with this author?

    • It’s not a must to read them in order, but you do have to overcome some “gaps” in the story if you don’t. I think it’s always preferable to read them in order! :–)

  3. Nymeth says:

    I’ll definitely read them in order when I do get to them. Thanks for the tip!

  4. I’ve had 2 Jo Nesbo books on my shelf for a year now, but haven’t read them because I can’t get past Harry’s name. Every time I read the back of the book again, thinking that maybe I should give it a shot, I start sn

  5. Steph says:

    I haven’t really had much luck with Scandinavian crime, so I’m a bit reluctant to keep trying it BUT I have heard marvelous things about this author from a variety of blogs so I think I must try at least one of his books. As you mentioned, I have been put off of this series for the time being, however, because of the out-of-order translations (which I just don’t understand!), so I’ve been holding out until they’re all published so I can read them in the order they were meant to be read.

  6. Kaye says:

    good to know it’s best to read them in order. I do have one hanging around here I’ve just never gotten to. I’ll have to ferret out the first one and go from there. Great review!

  7. Barbara says:

    I’ve had Jo Nesbo on my list for months but just haven’t had time. So Jessica can stop snickering, I did learn that Harry Hole’s last name is actually pronounced Hoole. I couldn’t get past it until I heard this either.

  8. zibilee says:

    Sandy’s reviews of these books have pretty much convinced me that I need to read them. They sound so action packed and full of difficult characters and life that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. I want to read the series in order, but that may not be in the cards for me. Perhaps I will wait a bit and see if they all become available. Great review today, Jill!

  9. BermudaOnion says:

    You and Sandy have me feeling like I really need to read Nesbo right now! I have one of his books, unfortunately not this one, and hopefully I can get to it soon.

  10. Margot says:

    i have to tell you the truth on this one: I saw it at the store the other day, had it in my hand to buy, and put it down. I want to read a Jo Nesbo book but I wasn’t sure about Nemesis. I told myself I’d wait to see what you thought, since you are the expert (in my mind) on these books.

  11. Rita K says:

    This one was my favorite too!

  12. I have only read one book of Nesbo’s and it came AFTER this one! <y plan at this point is to continue on in the series and then, once I finish it, perhaps go back and read the first few I missed. It's a shame his books weren't all published in order.

  13. another series I must start at the beginning?? Really?? lol
    I read The Snowman…and while I liked it I did not love it…maybe because I had read none of the previous ones and was a bit confused.

  14. I have all of these just waiting for me! Which order would you recommend?

  15. Jenners says:

    I started with The Redbreast based on you and Sandy having contracted Nesbo fever. I didn’t fall in love … but Sandy said that was probalby the weakest. I’ll give him another chance. Since this one is the strongest (per you), maybe I’ll get sucked in.

  16. Serena says:

    I have not read any Nesbo….why is this?! I must be living in a cave!

  17. JoAnn says:

    I’d definitely need to read them in order. Will start with The Redbreast… soon, I hope.

  18. stacybuckeye says:

    You and your Nesbo crush have me excited to start this series. My 2012 goal will be no challenges, but lots of books that have me actually excited to read!

  19. Julie P. says:

    I’ve given up with trying to read everything in order. I’m glad to know this one works well as a standalone.

  20. JoV says:

    This is an interesting review Jill and I’m wondering if I ever stick to plan where I can read anything in order! 🙂 is your blog anniversary here soon? I seem to think you start your blog about the same time I start mine! 🙂

  21. Amanda Mac says:

    Yes, I too am a sucker for Harry Hole (or Hooler)! Nesbo is brilliant and has me hooked although I did have to give Redbreast a couple of tries to get into it. It is always a pleasure to think I have another chapter in a Nesbo book, to snuggle with at bedtime!!!

  22. Amanda Mac says:

    Thanks for the link to Jo Nesbø talking about Harry. It was interesting and spoke about all sorts of writers, and was a link that with which, i was not yet familiar. I hope the US embraces Nesbø’s talent. Incidentally, the Killing also was a winner here in Australia, even with Danish subtitiles!!!

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