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‘Phantom’ Pains

Gripping ending will  haunt readers

By Elizabeth Rabin

For The Free Lance–Star

WHEN “The Snowman” became a breakout hit in America, the publicity  surrounding the book touted its author, Jo Nesbø, as writer Stieg Larsson’s successor.  But, as  readers discovered, Nesbø’s well-written series about troubled detective Harry Hole   had enough staying power to outlast the Nordic thriller craze.  Getting caught up in Hole’s increasingly difficult life, I checked out the  back titles  to satisfy  my curiosity and  looked forward to “Phantom,” the latest entry,  never anticipating  how unsatisfied  the story would leave me.

“Phantom” opens in 2011, three years after the events of the previous book, “The Leopard.”   Hole is returning to Oslo after crafting a new life as muscle for a bookie back in Hong Kong.  Oleg, the son of Hole’s former flame Rakel, is accused of murder, and Hole is determined to clear Oleg’s name out of a sense of misplaced filial duty.  However, he’s taking on a difficult task.  Before, Hole was a lone wolf working within Oslo’s crime division, bending a rule here and breaking a nose or a couple of fingers there.  Now he’s truly an outsider, a “civilian” with a policeman’s expertise trying to conduct his own unsanctioned investigation.

Nesbø sets up an interesting challenge for his protagonist.  Hole’s famously dysfunctional approach to life has always driven his interactions with other characters, ramping up the tension  of Nesbø’s intricate plots.  Here, Hole is isolated, bumbling into lives and disrupting events that have gone on without him.  Logically, this is a natural progression of the series, but as a result the resilient spark that Nesbø could conjure  out of even the lowest moment is missing.  Nesbø strains to get  lots of ideas about relationships across, but with Hole grimly marching on his own, the message never  coheres.

“Phantom” is also an entry that is heavily dependent on the other books in the series.  While knowing some of Hole’s backstory helped in “Snowman” and “Leopard,” readers could still enjoy the unfolding plot twists and turns.  “Phantom” won’t make a lot of sense to new readers, who will struggle to understand the connections between Hole and the people he’s trying to save or  bring down.  Nesbø tries to compensate by exploring the heroin trade in Oslo, but this seems neither new or novel.

Despite those criticisms,  “Phantom” ends on such a  cliffhanger, I’m  again eager to read the next book, if only to see how Nesbø will write himself and his protagonist out of danger.  So, reader beware, “Phantom” might give you a few sleepless nights trying to unravel Hole’s fate for yourself.

Elizabeth Rabin  is a freelance reviewer  in Spotsylvania County.


By Jo Nesbø

(Knopf, $25.95, 400 pp.)


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