Review: The Devil’s Star

The Devil’s Star (Harry Hole #5), Jo Nesbø. New York: Harper, 2017 (originally published 2003).

Summary: Detective Harry Hole, still in turmoil over the unsolved death of his partner, is spiraling downward to termination, until asked to work on the case of a serial killer.

Detective Harry Hole’s life is a mess. His former detective partner, Ellen Gjelten was killed and the murder is unsolved. It has estranged him from his partner, Rakel, and eventually his offenses, fueled by his drinking, have mounted to such a point that even his boss, Bjarne Moller, can’t shield him from dismissal.

But there is one more case, or rather a string of them. The murder of Camille Loen, which he walked out on because of being paired with his nemesis Tom Waaler, has turned into a series of murders following a pattern–a finger severed, a red diamond star left somewhere on the victim with another carved in the vicinity, and a shot to the head. Five days later, Lisbeth Barli, a singer living with a theatre impresario goes missing until her finger arrives at the police department. Then in another five days later, a receptionist found dead in a fifth floor restroom.

Hole, the only detective to solve another serial killer case, is asked to assist Waaler, despite his suspicions that Waaler is corrupt. Waaler in turn plays on the imminent dismissal to Hole to try to lure him into his corruption. Meanwhile, it is Hole who figures out the pattern. The five-pointed stars are pentagrams, a demonic symbol. There is a pattern of fives–five days, fifth floors, different digits for each murder. The pattern leads to a suspect and future murder locations. But something bother Hole. It seems a bit too perfect.

This one has a page-turner climax that I will not spoil by discussing it. This was my first Jo Nesbø. I’d heard others recommend his work. Hole is a gritty and flawed character, but like other great detectives, he thinks and muses and keeps thinking. He spots patterns and thinks beyond them. I realized that he has a history that I may have missed by not reading the earlier books (this was a deal on Kindle). Will he self-destruct or find an equilibrium that allows him to survive.

Nesbø sets this in Oslo during the summer, amid the warp and woof of urban life–students, theatre, business. The mounting heat wave provides an atmospheric backdrop as we await the storm to break. A longsuffering boss, a savvy cab driver, and a longsuffering girlfriend and her adoring son all seem to see something beneath the troubled life of this detective. I found myself turning the pages to see how this would all turn out, and find myself wanting to hang in there with this Harry Hole guy as well.