KNIFE by Jo Nesbø
Series: Harry Hole Series
Alfred A. Knopf; 7/9/19
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: a must-read, a strong contender for my new favorite Nesbø book
Disclaimer: I work for Alfred A. Knopf, Jo Nesbø’s US publisher. I typically do not review the books I’m working on here on CBTB, but given that Nesbø has been such an integral part of this blog (and of my reading life prior to starting CBTB!), I’m making an exception for this one!
I never re-read crime books… unless it’s a novel by Jo Nesbø, and then all bets are off. As I write this review, I’ve already read Nesbø’s newest - and arguably best - crime novel KNIFE twice, and between me and you, I’ll probably read it again before the year is out. A new Nesbø novel is always a cause for celebration (bonus when it’s released right after my birthday, as KNIFE was this year!), but KNIFE is something really special. It’s got everything Nesbø readers have come to expect from Scandinavia’s reigning crime fiction king: a layered plot, a gritty atmosphere, immersive pacing, plenty of very convincing red herrings, and, of course, our beloved troubled detective Harry Hole. But KNIFE is a departure from its immediate series predecessors, too, and it’s here that KNIFE really shines. By dialing back on the overt gore that defined 2017’s The Thirst, Nesbø gives his razor-sharp prose and superb character development room to shine in KNIFE. This is undoubtedly Nesbø’s darkest story yet, and it’s also his most emotionally affecting - a potent combination that will get under your skin as much as it will keep you turning pages. Nesbø is at his best when putting Norwegian detective Harry Hole through his worst, and KNIFE might just be the best installment yet in this exceptional crime series. Nothing will be the same for Harry - or Harry’s loyal readers - after KNIFE.
Brilliant, audaciously rogue police officer, Harry Hole from The Snowman and The Thirst,is back and in the throes of a new, unanticipated rage--once again hunting the murderer who has haunted his entire career.
Harry Hole is not in a good place. Rakel--the only woman he's ever loved--has ended it with him, permanently. He's been given a chance for a new start with the Oslo Police but it's in the cold case office, when what he really wants is to be investigating cases he suspects have ties to Svein Finne, the serial rapist and murderer who Harry helped put behind bars. And now, Finne is free after a decade-plus in prison--free, and Harry is certain, unreformed and ready to take up where he left off. But things will get worse. When Harry wakes up the morning after a blackout, drunken night with blood that's clearly not his own on his hands, it's only the very beginning of what will be a waking nightmare the likes of which even he could never have imagined.
Before we dig into my thoughts on KNIFE, let’s start at the very beginning. The most commonly-asked question I’ve received about Nesbø’s newest release is: can KNIFE be read as a standalone? My answer is twofold: yes, it absolutely can be, but you may also wish to play a bit of series catch-up after you devour Nesbø’s newest — it’s that good. As always with the Harry Hole series, the investigations central to this story are self-contained; any background information you might need as a newcomer you’ll find included in KNIFE, and the mysteries central to this story are introduced and solved within this book’s pages. That being said, it’s always true of any series that you will understand its characters and their developmental arcs best if you’ve read the series in chronological order. If you’d like to start the Harry Hole series at the beginning, I would recommend starting with Book 3, The Redbreast, and then working your way through; if, on the other hand, you prefer to start a bit closer to KNIFE, I would recommend beginning with Book 7, The Snowman, and reading from there. Nesbø is a pro at making his books accessible to newcomers no matter where said newcomers choose to dip in, but his books are also so good, I’m betting just reading one won’t be enough for you!
If there’s one author whose books have been central to CBTB, it’s Jo Nesbø. Nesbø’s internationally bestselling Harry Hole series became an instant-favorite for me when I first discovered it on a trip to Norway years ago, and to this day, it’s my absolute favorite crime series out there. Nesbø’s books are the cream of the crop when it comes to dark, gritty police procedurals, and KNIFE is no exception. In KNIFE, readers find series protagonist Harry Hole at his lowest: his beloved wife Rakel has kicked him out, and his oldest enemy - his addiction to alcohol - has reared its ugly head. As KNIFE opens, readers find Harry waking with a ferocious hangover, his memory of the night before clouded by alcohol. And, to make matters worse, there’s blood on his hands — and it’s not his own. What trouble could Harry have gotten into the night prior? As revelations come to light about a heartbreaking crime that occurred during Harry’s blackout, Nesbø begins to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of both his readers and his protagonist. Could Harry be capable of evil? KNIFE’s greatest trick, then, is to turn one of modern crime fiction’s most shrewd investigators on himself. Harry soon finds himself venturing down an unthinkable rabbit hole of deceit and tragedy, puzzling together a crime with ramifications that hit closer to home than anything he has faced before. Nesbø is at his best here: Harry’s raw, visceral emotion will break the hearts of even the most toughened crime fiction readers, and the layered intricacy of this subplot will keep readers constantly wrongfooted until the novel’s final jaw-dropping reveal.
True to form, Nesbø doesn’t limit himself to just one central crime in KNIFE, and readers who love an intricate procedural will find so much to love about the multiple mysteries that Nesbø masterfully weaves together here. Alongside Harry’s desperate investigation into his own actions, Nesbø also pits our protagonist against a villain from his past: Svein Finne, a repugnant and genuinely evil character whose stomach-turning proclivities put him among the ranks of some of crime fiction’s most frightening antagonists. As a young police officer, Harry was responsible for arresting Svein Finne and sending him to prison, but in KNIFE, Finne has served his time and been released — and Harry is convinced he’s back to his old (horrific) ways. Desperate to lock Finne away once and for all before he can come after those Harry loves, Harry begs his superiors to release him from his job at the cold case office and put him on the Finne case. In short, stomach-turning chapters, Nesbø injects KNIFE with little glimpses into what Finne is actually doing with his newfound freedom… and readers will be terrified by what they discover. KNIFE is not for the faint of heart, and Finne’s actions are deeply, genuinely repulsive, delivering some of the book’s most lastingly frightening scares. Nesbø masterfully weaves the Finne plotline into KNIFE’s larger story, crafting a tapestry of visceral crime writing that will stay with you long after you turn the book’s final page. KNIFE is huge in scope, moving between mysteries, back in time, and between numerous secondary characters, but Nesbø’s precision of plotting makes it eminently readable and engrossing from first to last.
Writing a page-turning thriller with sound plotting is a feat in and of itself, but what elevates KNIFE - and Nesbø’s books in general - above their peers is the big, beating heart at their core. Nowhere in the Harry Hole series is its humanity on better display than in KNIFE. Beyond its chilling crimes, gritty atmosphere, and layered police investigations, KNIFE is a book about love lost. Harry’s emotional turmoil is an electric undercurrent to this story; his grief over the loss of Rakel, the woman who made his heart whole, is palpable. Readers will be hard-pressed not to weep alongside Harry as he takes stock of the personal losses he suffers throughout this story. And beyond Harry, the secondary characters Nesbø crafts and revisits in KNIFE are just as vividly wrought. KNIFE has a huge cast of characters; returning favorites including Kaja Solness, Katrine Bratt, and Bjørn Holm, as well as a number of newcomers with backgrounds as compelling as the mysteries in which they are embroiled. Nesbø’s sharp eye for human behavior and psychology give the men and women who fill this book’s pages depth and authenticity, lending KNIFE an emotional heft that far surpasses that of any Harry Hole novel yet.
KNIFE is vintage Nesbø in all the best ways. By leaning away from the overt violence of series installments like The Thirst, Nesbø gives his newest crime novel space to shine for its emotional heft, psychological insight, and layered, precise plotting, not just for its visceral scares — though it certainly has those to offer, too. Beloved series protagonist Harry Hole has never had it quite as bad as he does in KNIFE, and it makes for heart-wrenching, visceral crime writing of the highest order. KNIFE is Nordic Noir at its finest; the newest, and arguably best, novel from the reigning king of Scandinavian crime fiction is that of an author at the top of his game. The only downside? Now I’ve got to be patient and start another countdown for the next Jo Nesbø release.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Series: Harry Hole Series
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Knopf (July 9, 2019)
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