You may remember that recently the lovely people at Vintage Books sent me an enormous pile of Jo Nesbo books, and this weekend, thanks to being under the weather, I finally got around to reading the newest one: The Leopard.
“In the depths of winter, a killer stalks the city streets. His victims are two young women, both found with twenty-four inexplicable puncture wounds, both drowned in their own blood. The crime scenes offer no clues, the media is reaching fever pitch and the police are running out of options. There is only one man who can help them, and he doesn’t want to be found. Deeply traumatized by The Snowman investigation, which threatened the lives of those he holds most dear, Inspector Harry Hole has lost himself in the squalor of Hong Kong’s opium dens, But with his father seriously ill in hospital, Harry reluctantly agrees to return to Oslo. He has no intention of working on the case, but his instinct takes over when a third victim is found brutally murdered in a city car park. The victims appear completely unconnected to one another, but it’s not long before Harry makes a discovery: the women all spent the night in an isolated mountain hostel. And someone is picking off the guests one by one.”
The Leopard had a lot to live up to, seeing as I rated The Snowman as one of the best – and creepiest – crime thrillers I had ever read. Luckily a lot of the same elements were here: a snowy Scandinavia, a sadistic but smart killer, a labyrinthine plot and, most importantly, the tortured detective Harry Hole, more tortured than ever and at the beginning of the book, hiding in Hong Kong. Throw in a power struggle between Oslo’s police department and the Kripos serious crime unit, a potential love interest for Hole and a father on death’s door, and you have yourself a well above-average clever crime thriller.
But it’s very complicated. Maybe a bit too much. The plot takes in three continents, events from four or five decades and a cast of characters that I would have struggled to keep track of even if I’d taken the time to keep a list. There was a map of Oslo printed at the beginning of the book – something that I, as a reader, have never understood or as much as glanced at; surely there’s no need unless the novel’s terrain is fictional? – but it might have been more helpful if there was a list of the cast. And at 600+ pages, this crime thriller lost a bit of its page-turning appeal just because there was so many pages to get through, far more than I’d expect for a novel of this genre.
Don’t get me wrong: I did like it, and I’ll still find the time to read Nesbo’s backlist and look out for new titles of his in the future. But by the time I got down to the last 50 to 100 pages, it was hard to care about who the killer was or why they were killing; my head was swimming with all the threads, and it became a chore to hold them all together.
Coincidentally, would you believe that this isn’t the first crime novel I’ve read featuring a tortured detective called Harry who doesn’t play by the rules, drinks and smokes, listens to Mile Davis and ends up in Hong Kong’s Chunking Mansions? Bosch also had a wander around there in Michael Connelly’s Nine Dragons. How weird is that?!