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.
Published in the U.S. by HarperCollins, 2009