Phantom starts much as The Leopard did with Harry Hole returning from exile to figure out a murder case. The difference in this tale is that the accused is none other than Oleg, Rakel’s son, who Harry had formed a father-son relationship with prior to splitting up with his mother. The other difference is that for pretty much the whole book Harry avoids drink and drugs, and finally when he does imbibe of his favourite Jack Daniels it is for medicinal reasons – to act as a painkiller as he has almost had his throat cut by an assailant and has done a bit of a DIY fix using duct tape to keep himself in the game. The almost empty bottle he has in his possession also helps him to avoid being drowned in another attempt on his life.
In Harry’s absence Oleg has turned into a drug user and pusher and is in prison for shooting his friend and business partner Gusto. Harry comes out of exile and embarks on an illegal solo mission unsanctioned by the police to try and prove Oleg’s innocence, which, it turns out, is easier said than done. Oleg, Gusto and Gusto’s sister, who Oleg has a bit of a thing for, are working for a shadowy kingpin character who I guess is the phantom of the title. The kingpin rules by violence and the threat of violence and is an obvious suspect in the investigation.
Harry uncovers corruption in the Oslo police force and government and finds himself and Oleg the target of would-be assassins sent by the kingpin who is determined that his drug selling operation is not jeopardised.
The story is less complicated and more linear than the previous novels and this makes it refreshingly easy to read. Rather than following the vicious acts of a serial killer, it reads more like a whodunit and has a lot to say about the effect of drugs upon various types of people – greedy politicians, bent policemen, ambitious pushers, desperate addicts and their families.
There are still the typical plot twists and indeed the book ends with Nesbo seemingly killing off his character. Harry takes three bullets – two in the chest and one in the head. However he dons a flak jacket in a previous scene and I assume that would protect him from the body shots. The head shot is another matter, but the increasingly injured Harry must survive as inside the back cover of the paperback there is a picture of the next book in the series. I’m sure when it was published in Norway it caused a bit of a stir, but now I am just curious to know how he survived and what battle scars Harry will have to add to his growing collection.