Book Review: “Killing Moon” by Jo Nesbø
Even though Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole police detective series has run for 13 novels now and has been adapted into one 2017 film, I must admit that I’ve never heard of these books and their protagonist — although its author has made bestseller lists. Thus, I must say that it was a delight to encounter this main character for the first time. Harry Hole (who ironically isn’t far off from the spelling of my name if you take the “Zac” out of the first name and drop a “u” from my surname) is the type of likable unlikable character. He drinks too much, is something of a womanizer, and employs questionable legal tactics involving his investigations into serial killers. Despite all of this, he is brilliant — he’s usually a step or two ahead of the killer in some respects, even if he doesn’t have a suspect in mind yet (if that doesn’t sound too paradoxical). Make no mistake: you’re not coming to the Harry Hole series expecting high literature, even if its author is infatuated with Shakespeare and underground alternative bands of the 1980s and ’90s. (What’s the title of this book again? Seems kind of reminiscent of a certain Echo and the Bunnymen song, if you were to ask me.) This is a series that you can enjoy as a form of escapism. I think I’m confident in making that assessment, even though I’ve only read the most recent novel in this series which has a lot of books behind it.
Killing Moon opens in Los Angeles, where our hero is trying to drink himself to death due to one too many skeletons in the closet. He befriends an elderly woman as a drinking buddy, but it turns out that she owes loan sharks from Mexico nearly one million dollars. She’s kidnapped and Harry is forced to take on a case as a private detective in his native Norway to pay for the ransom. Oh, and he only has 10 days to solve the case, or his lady friend and Harry, too, will meet their demises. Once back in Oslo, Harry determines that the case — which involves trying to clear the name of a wealthy businessman who is suspected of murdering two women that went to one of his parties — might involve the work of a serial killer. So, Harry is working against the clock, not only to save his friend’s life (and his own) but also to prevent further people from being murdered by the killer at large.
The thing I can say about Killing Moon is that it is a long book. Part of the pleasure lies in the journey, not necessarily the destination. I don’t want to sound critical at all, because part of the “charm” of this book is the fact that Harry turns out to be wrong a few times, and when he does get it right, it’s usually due to a combination of luck and coincidence, which can be viewed by surly readers as cop-outs. Still, the novel is entertaining as we watch Harry and a rogue team he has assembled — a former colleague dying of cancer, a cab driver, and a disgraced police detective among them — try to outwit and outsmart the person who has taken unusual trophies from his victims: their eyes and their brains. There might be not much more of a point in parsing what this book is about because, as stated before, the work’s sole job is to deliver chills and spills, if not be outright fun (if you can call a book series about investigating serial killers to be fun). This is the kind of thing that is perfect for beach weather — which, surprise, surprise, we’ll be entering as a season not long after this book is published.
You might be asking yourself the question: do I have to read the previous 12 books in this series first before diving into this one? Not particularly, is the answer I’d give. I managed to generally follow along and make sense of things as they related to what had happened to Harry before, but the downside is that there are spoilers to the other novels that preceded this one. So (and not to spoil things that this book already spoils), if you don’t want to find out what has happened to Hole’s wife, for instance, without having read the book that deals with what happens to her first, then, well, you may want to backtrack and start reading the series in order. Overall, though, I found this to be a hugely enjoyable novel that stands well on its own. Sure, the whodunnit part of the read is a little farfetched as is the unconventional “murder weapon” of sorts (I won’t say anything about this to not give away anything, as much as I might be tempted to). However, one can overlook these things in the name of fun.
And, yes, the book takes a while to read — but that only means there’s much more to enjoy here than you’d get in a conventional novel. As far as these things go, this is an A1, top-notch novel that is pure adrenaline. No, wait! It’s a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride. Wait a minute! It’s a high-octane thriller that doesn’t know when to relent. Wait, it’s — . Well, you get the picture. Killing Moon is a highly enjoyable read that doesn’t ask you to think too much about it and I must say that the Scandinavian setting is exotic. The book earns bonus points from me for dealing with alcoholism and attempted recovery in a way that isn’t pandering but also unflinching. In any event, at the end of the day, I can say one thing: I think I now have 12 more books to read on my ever-growing To Be Read pile. I’m glad that I got to experience this one, and you will be too if you’re into this sort of thing. It’s highly recommended entertainment.
Jo Nesbø’s Killing Moon will be published by Penguin Random House Canada on May 30, 2023.
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