Shakespeare wrote in THE TEMPEST, “What’s past is prologue.” Sometimes the events a country most wants to forget return to endanger those who survived its first incarnation. Lessons aren’t learned and a new generation picks up the mantle that had covered the old secrets, exposing them to the light and in doing so, brings down the darkness.
In Jo Nesbo’s THE REDBREAST, police detective Harry Hole has presented a perfect case against Sverre Olsen, a leader of the Neo-Nazi party in Norway. But a mistake made by the judge causes the case to fall apart and Olsen is back in the community. A month later Harry makes a mistake that nearly causes an international incident so, to prevent further embarrassment, Harry is promoted and assigned to surveillance duties, a job intended to keep him out of the spotlight. This, however, puts Harry in contact again with Olsen and his followers. The Neo-Nazi party has become increasingly active and there are rumors that something is planned for Norway’s Independence Day which coincides with the Muslim holiday of Eid. Rumors spread suggesting that the crowds celebrating the national holiday will prevent the police from effectively responding to an attack on the Muslim community. Then a homeless man is murdered and suspicion falls on Svarre Olsen and as Harry investigates he realizes that the old Nazis and the young Nazis are tied together through a story of love, brutality, hero worship, and sexual extortion.
Norway worked zealously to bury its connections to Germany during WWII. Vidkun Quisling made his name a synonym for traitor but he wasn’t the only Norwegian to believe that the future would belong to the Third Reich. Many of Norway’s young men died fighting for Germany on the eastern front and those who survived the war returned to a country that was trying to re-write its recent past and so they were branded as traitors.
Sixty years later, the old soldiers are being killed with surgical skill or a sniper’s shot. Who is doing the killing and why, after so many years, has the assassin decided to act?
Jo Nesbo evokes the war years by bringing the reader to the battlefields of Russia and a hospital in Vienna. He brings to life an Oslo comfortable in its democracy, aware of its 21st century problems, and happy to have been convinced that history is a story told by the winners and what is dark and shameful can be redacted with an historian’s pen.
THE REDBREAST is the first book in the Harry Hole series. Like most series, this one can be best appreciated if the books are read in order.
Despite being 500 pages, THE REDBREAST will be read quickly; once started, the reader will not want to put it down.