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March 28, 2012 / John Sheridan

Review: Phantom by Jo Nesbo

Phantom by Jo Nesbo

(Amazon, Amazon UK, Book Depository UK)

Phantom is the latest (and greatest..???) in Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series. Why the question marks? Well, I just haven’t read all of them yet so can’t say conclusively that this is the best. What I can say is that I loved Phantom enough to award it top rating – 5 out of 5. Since my first introduction to Nesbo in ’09 (The Redeemer) I have been something of an evangelist for him among friends and acquaintances and Phantom re-emphasises all the reasons why I love Harry Hole so much. As with any series novel it has the advantage of featuring a familiar cast but one that also has Harry Hole at its core is almost unfair to the competition.

Harry is drawn back to Oslo due to a murder case involving his former partner, Rakel, and her son Oleg. After being away for a number of years, Harry’s observations are nearer those of a foreigner (albeit one with a high degree of knowledge of his environs) but he is truck by the changes in both the drug trade and also some of the redevelopment that has taken place and both of these factors will come to be relevant later in his investigation. Quite early in the novel suspicion is raised as to the methods of the police in achieving the general reduction in street level drugs between the existence of a “burner” who destroys or misplaces evidence on a selective basis but how far does this corruption go and is his boss also involved? There are indicators both for and against so you aren’t quite sure and Nesbo does an excellent job of keeping the reader guessing as well as potentially raising the stakes by giving greater scale to the conspiracy and corruption.

On a number of occasions, seemingly innocuous comments or observations will prove critical later and are reintroduced in a simply masterful manner. There are also echoes of The French Connection in which Popeye Doyle is forcibly addicted. As Harry pursues the truth it may come at an enormous cost to both himself and the few others that he cares about as he is under surveillance by the criminals and given that he no longer has the protection of the badge he is also operating without access to the resources which he once had but this also frees him from certain restrictions.

Reference is made to the manner of death being in keeping with the life lived and this is repeated throughout as characters are introduced only to later meet their maker in a manner appropriate to their stock in trade. As Harry tracks the gang leader “Dubai” both he and the reader share a realisation of the purpose of the tunnels he has entered and the linkage to “beret man” – another policeman that had tried and failed to bring Dubai to justice.

Not all of the questions raised in the course of the novel are answered directly by Harry Hole’s character with at times vital progress in our comprehension coming via other characters and when this does happen though you are still unsure whether this offers them redemption or escape?

And no, I didn’t guess who the phantom was! Nor the ultimate conclusion which it would be most unfair to reveal. One can only admire the skill with which seeds are deftly planted earlier in the story before being expertly woven into the fabric of the novel as the exposition unfolds.

Simply unmissable.


Leave a Comment
  1. Jeff / Mar 29 2012 3:03 pm

    I would like to get into this series but I can’t take a character named Harry Hole seriously. I think it was a bad idea to name a character something as suggestive as that. I don’t think I could get over it while reading.

    • John Sheridan / Mar 29 2012 3:36 pm

      I think the stories are so good that you would soon forget about the name. Maybe it’s something that got lost in translation.


  1. Review: Phantom (2012), by Jo Nesbø | The Game's Afoot
  2. Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole | The Mystery Bookshelf

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