Book Review: A thriller that rests on a knife’s edge

Book: Knife

Author: Jo Nesbo

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Pages: 531

Price: Rs 599

If you love Nordic noir then I don’t need to tell you about author Jo Nesbo and his protagonist — Norwegian detective Harry Hole. But if, per chance, you haven’t heard of or read his work, then pick up Knife. The novel has all the classic elements or clichéd ones of crime fiction: The protagonist is more an anti-hero than heroic, his relationship with alcohol is stronger than ever, his ties with his family have broken down; a serial rapist and killer has been thrown into the mix as well. But it is to Nesbo’s credit that these don’t burden the reader or plot.

The thriller, which is the 12th Hole novel, starts off in a hunting shop. It then sees an inebriated Hole waking up with blood on his hand after being involved in a bar fight he can’t quite remember. There is also a murder and a sexual assault. This sets up the book as Hole investigates the killing, in which even he could be a suspect.

As Hole goes down rabbit holes during his investigations, the twists, turns and events can be heart-wrenching and leave you on a knife’s edge looking ahead to the climax, all at the same time. This is one of the darkest Hole novels ever and has quite a lot of graphic violence that can put off some readers, but that’s in keeping with the author’s style. In an interview, Nesbo stated that he's never been this brutal to Harry before. Well, while that may be true, it is great for the readers. And the fact that the ‘whodunnit’ left most people who have read it, and I spoke to, surprised is the hallmark of a brilliant writer. And ultimately, that is the definitive mark of a great detective novel.

The only minus point of the novel is the fact that it could have been trimmed a little, but the varied characters and sub-plots do make for a gripping read.

The author’s grasp of human psychology and emotions is another reason I keep going back to Nesbo. Lines like, “Madness is a lonely dialogue where we give ourselves the answers we want...” and “But happiness is like heroin; once you’ve tasted it, once you’ve found out that happiness exists, you will never be entirely happy with an ordinary life without happiness again. Because happiness is something more than mere satisfaction. Happiness isn’t natural. Happiness is a trembling, exceptional state; seconds, minutes, days that you know simply can’t last...” are perfect examples of an insight into the human mind. A special mention should also be made of Neil Smith for keeping the essence of the book while translating from the original Norwegian.