Beware! We’re on that bit of the faded map that states ‘here there be spoilers’. I can’t talk much about Jo Nesbo’s new book without giving away a few things.
That out of the way, the first thing to note is that The Thirst is pretty much as close to a sequel to Police as you can get, but of course all Nesbo’s Harry Hole books are in an ongoing chronological sequence. And it’s not so much a question of who the killer is, since it’s made pretty clear that it’s Valentin Gjersten the escaped convict with the demon tattoo on his chest from the previous book, but more a question of who is helping him.
Nesbo lays out quite a few suspects and of course there’s some inevitable twists, red herrings and carefully framed wording to mislead the reader. It’s actually something that bugs me a little about Nesbo that he seems obsessed with making the experience as mystifying as possible, but this then by it’s nature leads him to have to write a shed load of expositionary dialogue from the characters to explain how wonderfully complicated the plot has been. I enjoyed reading it, perhaps more than Police, but I sometimes found myself yearning for the directness and relative simplicity of a Jack Reacher story.
So who is helping Gjersten, why is he behaving like a vampirist – biting people with a set of iron teeth and drinking their blood – and who has motivated him to do so? Gjersten, remember, is a wily killer who has evaded the police for some time since his escape and is now being pretty open with Hole et al about who it is that’s doing the murdering in Oslo.
There is a list of three potential accomplices as far as I can figure, although I had rejected one of the three as a blatant red herring quite early on.
First is Hallstein Smith a disgraced psychologist who has been mocked in the past for his theories about vampirists. He wants acceptance from his peers and the string of murders would appear to be helping his cause especially when he joins Harry’s investigation team in an expert advisory capacity despite his somewhat shady reputation as a stealing ‘monkey’.
Second is the doctor at the local hospital who specialises in blood. Harry’s wife Rakel falls ill to the point where she is put into an induced coma while the doctor tries to figure out what’s going on. It’s 50/50 as to whether she’s going to die of liver failure which throws Hole into a hole of existentialist angst and makes him thirsty for the bottle.
Third is the blonde, handsome, young almost-too-good-to-be true rookie cop on Harry’s team. Wet behind the ears, he has something to prove and while he’s not hero worshipping Harry, he seems to be up to something behind the scenes.
Somewhat more entertaining than this is-it-him-or-is-it-him?-meander-thon is an interesting sub plot concerning grubby Truls ‘Beavis’ Bernsten, who has been leaking information about the case to the Norwegian press, and finally gets his chance to sleep with the wife of his long time frenemy chief of police Mikael Bellman. The politically ambitious chief is still fooling around with another woman and Ulla wants to get revenge. But when it comes down to it, neither can betray the weird love-hate triangle that they’ve known since school.
It’s almost Shakespearean (and perhaps Nesbo has been doing his homework ahead of his next book Macbeth) when Truls puts himself in mortal danger to protect Ulla while Bellman doesn’t raise a finger and it’s far more interesting than the silly twist at the end of the book that is supposed to make us think that Hole is dead. Again.
The other thing that grates a little is Hole’s alcoholism which briefly rears its ugly head once again in this book but hardly to the extent where it’s really doing anything to help the story or character development. Yes we know he’s a tortured soul, so what? Tell us something we don’t know. His slipping off the wagon really is inconsequential to the story unless we believe that he cheated on Rakel with a police colleague while he was pissed out of his head. The punch line in this story is that he ends up owning a bar!
Minor gripes aside, this is a really good read and the story moves along at a reasonable clip despite Nesbo’s penchant for whimsical bouts of philosophy, fickle portrayal of alcoholism, and opinions about Norway and rock bands.