It would be impossible for me to write a post about Jo Nesbo’s new Harry Hole thriller Knife without entering spoiler territory, so please (please please) don’t go any further with reading this if you intend to read the book because, while I’ll try and skirt around most, there’s one major spoiler I really can’t avoid here.
That out of the way, the first thing to note is that Knife is very much a sequel to The Thirst. It should be clear to all fans of Nesbo’s Harry Hole books by now that they follow an ongoing chronological sequence. What I’d also like to make clear from the start is that I think that this is his best book of the dozen Harry Hole books Nesbo has written so far and in a completely different galaxy form the disappointing side project Macbeth.
It doesn’t suffer from the complexity of The Thirst, although it is still somewhat complicated, it benefits from us having prior knowledge of most of the main characters from previous books, and it feels more linear than previous stories, although there are still a number of flashback sequences to reveal events or facts that the reader might not have figured out along the way. I’d also say that this book should not be approached without reading The Thirst as a lot of what happened in that book comes back to haunt Hole in Knife.
I said in my post about The Thirst that Hole’s 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. Well you best believe it. It is somewhat deep into the book that we learn that this is the reason why the story starts with us finding that Harry and Rakel have split up (again). The reason for the split goes a little deeper than that but I won’t give everything away here.
So with Rakel alone in her house she is vulnerable to attack from Hole’s various enemies. The most obvious enemy being notorious rapist and murderer Svein Finne who is out of prison and back on the streets of Nesbo’s neo noir Oslo doing what he likes to do best – impregnating young women at knife point and threatening to kill them if they try and have an abortion.
Finne has an axe to grind with Hole and it’s double-edged. First Hole was the police detective who solved the case that led to Finne’s incarceration and secondly Hole was the man who killed his son Valentin Gjersten in The Thirst.
So when Rakel is killed. Yes you read it right. When Rakel is killed. Finne is Hole’s prime suspect. That’s of course when Hole has managed to climb out of the bottle he has been drowning in pretty much from page one.
He finds himself in a limbo of not wanting to wake up to the fact his wife is dead but wanting to fill the gap in his memory of the night of the murder. A lot of the story is Hole piecing together the night’s events together and explaining why he woke up covered in blood in his flat with no recollection how he got there. It’s a fun puzzle to be solved and one that I put my mind to vociferously over the course of a week as I read the book.
One thing is pretty much clear, from the amount of pages left to read, when Finne is arrested for the murder that he has a stone-cold alibi. This is where Nesbo comes into his own in in laying out the possible other culprits. If Finne didn’t do it and Hole didn’t do it (although there is supposed to always be that nagging doubt, there is no way in hell Nesbo is going to do that to his cash cow) then there are three main possible suspects.
There is Kaja, Hole’s ex-girlfriend, who has a somewhat shady past and an obvious dislike of how Hole dumped her in favour of Rakel. There is her boss Roar Bohr who worked at a special branch of the Red Cross with Rakel and Kaja, who is an expert sniper and suffers from PTSD. And there is Hole’s fast friend at forensics Alexandra Struzda who has jettisoned in favour of the bottle and Kaja’s hospitality.
At least that’s how I saw it. I was very much taken in by Nesbo this time around, falling for a lot of red herrings and not once thinking it might not be one of those three, but someone much closer to Hole. I think that’s to be applauded, but also the way in which he ties it all up in a neat ribbon at the end pulling in all the loose threads of the many characters’ stories into a really satisfactory ending which sees Finne framed for the murder. The identity of the real murderer came as a complete surprise to me, even though I thought I was paying more attention than I normally do to this book.
Sure there’s some silliness along the way. Hole surviving a Holmes-esque plummet down a waterfall in his Ford Escort and surviving with just a dodgy knee and another cut on his head, and being presumed dead (again). Some more of the writer’s observations about music and Norwegian society thinly veiled as the opinion of the principle character. And Finne’s ability to appear and disappear at will like some kind of vampire.
But it’s all forgivable and I even enjoyed the bit at the end where Hole is mistaken for ‘that author’ by a bartender at Oslo airport – an obvious reference to a long-held belief I’ve had (and obviously many others if Nesbo is providing fan service) that if Hole was real he’d look a lot like Nesbo.
In my opinion Knife is the best book in the series so far. It’s sad that it’s at the cost of a great main character in the form of Rakel, who I had grown to really enjoy as a complex foil to Hole’s destructive tendencies, but that’s probably why the story works so well.
The emotions couldn’t be running any higher for Hole or the reader in their quest for justice and an explanation of what really went down that fateful night. It’s also great to see Hole’s relationship with Oleg, Rakel’s son who he treats as his own, remaining strong through the course of the story despite the character being somewhat side-lined. It’s the only reason Hole doesn’t let his alcoholism take control entirely and drink himself to death. It’s great stuff.