“Phantom” (Knopf), by Jo Nesbo
Let it never be said Jo Nesbo is afraid to take risks with his writing.
In all fairness, it’s unlikely many would say that. This is an author, after all, who gave us a device that forces victims to choke on their own blood and a murderer without nipples. But Nesbo’s most recent book, “Phantom,” is twisted in a more psychological way than his past novels.
“Phantom” once again features Harry Hole, the physically and mentally tortured detective with a talent for catching serial killers. This time, though, Hole is on a more personal mission than usual.
The investigator returns to Oslo from self-exile in Hong Kong to prove that the son of the woman he loves is not a killer.
The young man, Oleg, stands accused in the death of a fellow drug user, Gusto, who is a key narrator from beyond the grave in the book. Harry, who essentially views Oleg as his own son, simply cannot accept what the evidence says about him.
Hole takes a journey through Oslo’s drug world where a new, highly potent substance called violin is rapidly destroying lives. And this time, Hole is pretty much on his own (he’s no longer a part of the police force), but yet he still has to deal with plenty of police and political bureaucracy.
There are many strands and characters, even a rat, in this multilayered novel, and that’s both a strength and a weakness.
The many voices, the seemingly disparate events that ultimately lock together – such elements keep the reader hooked on Nesbo’s literary substance.
But at times it’s like an overdose. After all, there are only so many coincidences in life, and “Phantom” is really pushing it. A more simple approach (maybe two or three fewer characters) could have made the book even more addictive.