The Redbreast

By Jo Nesbø; translated by Don Bartlett

Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Harper, c2000, 2011

Genres: Mystery, suspense, thriller, crime thriller, police procedural, Scandinavian noir, historical fiction

Series: Harry Hole; 3

ISBN: 9780062068422

Audience: Adult

Number of pages: 553 (563 including an excerpt from The Devil’s Star)

Setting: Oslo, Norway, Leningrad, Russia, and Vienna, Austria, & Johannesburg, South Africa

Time period: There are two timelines – one takes place from 1999 – 2000; the other takes place during WWII – from 1942 – 1944.

Plot summary: In the course of duty, Police Officer Harry Hole is required to make a very difficult decision in a few seconds.  As a result, a team member is critically wounded and Harry feels responsible.  Therefore, the last thing he expects is a promotion.  As a new inspector, his job is routine and boring – until one report crosses his desk.  As he follows through with the report, he finds evidence of neo-Nazi involvement in an assignation attempt.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: Very tight and fast pacing.  Even as Nesbø shifts time frames between the present and past, the tension and cliff hangers ending the chapters keep one turning the pages.

Characterization: The story is told in third person  primarily from Harry’s  perspective.  Important secondary characters include Ellen and Rakel.

Frame: The robin redbreast sets the frame for this story.  In the first chapter, Ellen explains to Harry how a certain number of these birds make a calculated risk each year by choosing not to migrate for the winter.

Story line: A convoluted and complex mystery spanning two time frames and involving themes of Nationalism, racism, power, and sexism.

Subject headings:

From Pima County Public Library:

Hole, Harry (Fictitious character) — Fiction.

Heroes — Fiction.

Suspense fiction.

Mystery fiction.

Similar  authors:

Michael Connelly

Stieg Larsson

Henning Mankell

Jussi Adler-Olsen

Personal notes: I really enjoyed this book, even though I had a hard time with Ellen’s response to her thoughts that her life might be in danger.  She made the calculated risk to go out, but why didn’t she leave another message for Harry on his machine when she didn’t get a hold of him?  The following chapters with Harry talking to her machine were very moving.  At the start of the story, I had a bit of difficulty keeping track of all the characters and time frames, but that soon passed.  Of all the Scandanavian noir I’ve read since The Girl series, I think this book is the most similar in themes.

Other: Diversity – alcoholics, female police officer, soldiers, resistance fighters, traitors, neo-Nazis, single mother, woman with Down’s Syndrome

Originally published in Norway as Redstrupe.

Jo Nesbø’s website


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