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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Redbreast

Jo Nesbø

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To purchase The Redbreast

Title: The Redbreast
Author: Jo Nesbø
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 521 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Redbreast - US
The Redbreast - UK
The Redbreast - Canada
Rouge-Gorge - France
Rotkehlchen - Germany
Il pettirosso - Italia
Petirrojo - España
  • Norwegian title: Rødstrupe
  • Translated by Don Bartlett

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a lot of coincidences and a bit far-fetched, but a solid read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 6/10/2006 Jane Jakeman
London Rev. of Books . 17/8/2006 Christopher Tayler
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/12/2007 Marilyn Stasio
The Telegraph . 5/9/2006 Jake Kerridge
The Telegraph . 17/9/2006 Susanna Yager
The Times . 2/9/2006 Marcel Berlins
USA Today . 16/1/2008 Dennis Moore
The Washington Post . 10/12/2007 Patrick Anderson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Jo Nesbø has a credibly scary line on the power of corruption, and his complex plot culminates in a nail-biting episode with overtones of The Day of the Jackal. The descriptions of sub-zero horrors in wartime Leningrad are superb, but the modern narrative rests on some absurd coincidences, plus the stereotypical character of the embittered loner detective. This book has a flawed brilliance." - Jane Jakeman, The Independent

  • "(A)n elegant and complex thriller (.....) While giving his ambitious book the form of a police procedural, featuring Harry Hole, an attractive if familiarly flawed loose cannon of a cop, the author expands his street-level subplots into a narrative that reaches all the way back to World War II, when Norway was under German occupation. (...) Pristinely translated by Don Bartlett, Nesbo’s book eloquently uses its multiple horrors to advance a disturbing argument: suppressing history is an open invitation for history to repeat itself." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Although some crime writers slip up trying to combine social commentary with old-fashioned thrills, one feels here that Nesbø has settled on absolutely the right genre to suit his talents. His book is exciting, witty, melancholy and thought-provoking, and he is well served by his elegant translator, Don Bartlett" - Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph

  • "The narrative moves between Harry's present-day inquiries and the Eastern front in 1944, where a small group of Norwegian Nazis are fighting alongside the Germans. It requires some skilled plotting, but Nesbø brings it off, and Harry, with his quirky sense of humour, is a likeable hero despite his many flaws." - Susanna Yager, The Telegraph

  • "The Redbreast was recently voted Norway’s best crime novel yet." - Marcel Berlins, The Times

  • "Author Jo Nesbø's scenes are so vivid that you can imagine them playing across the big screen. The pacing is swift. The plot is precise and intricate. The characters are intriguing. And the novel combines two of the best cinematic genres: war sagas and crime thrillers." - Dennis Moore, USA Today

  • "(A) fine novel, ambitious in concept, skillful in execution and grown-up in its view of people and events. In important ways it's also a political novel, one concerned with the threat of fascism, in Norway and by implication everywhere. All in all, The Redbreast certainly ranks with the best of current American crime fiction." - Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Redbreast centres around Harry Hole, and begins with the justifiable but inconvenient mistake he makes that leads to his promotion to Inspector in the Norwegian Security Service. (This is the second Harry Hole-novel to appear in English, but in their infinite wisdom the British and American publishers are bringing them out in what appears to be completely random order.) Harry is your usual problem-character -- a brilliant investigator, with a fondness for the bottle and some emotional baggage. He's not very social, and having his own office at the end of a hall where he can cloister himself suits him fine. Among the few people he can work with is his (former) police partner, Ellen.
       The Redbreast also centres around Norway's past, focussing on a group of Norwegians who volunteered to fight on the Eastern front during World War II, with a considerable number of scenes in the book set in those times. Some of the survivors have fared better than others, but one is out for a final revenge. Through some neo-Nazi contacts he makes a very big purchase, a Märklin rifle. With its 16 mm bullets it is: "the ultimate professional murder weapon, and it had already become the world's most sought after assassination weapon by 1973."
       When Harry finds out that a Märklin has made it into the country he becomes very suspicious, and wants to figure out who purchased it and for what purpose. Harry doesn't have to worry too much about outside interference, as he's allowed to do pretty much as he pleases; it's only when someone perceives him as a romantic rival that he's shunted off (briefly) to a posting in Sweden. He flies to South Africa and Vienna, but events unfold -- and the bodies pile up -- faster than he can put the pieces together.
       There are a few too many coincidences in the book, but at least Nesbø is willing to take a few unpredictable steps -- including murdering off at least one character of the sort that is usually off-limits in such series (though that death, in particular, comes about as a result of several coincidences and miscues that seem particularly unlikely). It's also a book about moral ambiguity, as those young Norwegians were branded traitors yet often just did what they did without thinking through all the moral implications. And good does not too-easily prevail: the novel does not neatly tie up all its ends, as the role of one of the bad guys -- arguably the most dangerous -- remains unrevealed, a menace no doubt lurking over Harry's future.
       Nesbø presents his story fairly well, though the police procedural part is a bit easy and convenient -- everything is almost effortless, a model of efficiency (even when, like right at the beginning, it goes very wrong). Having two men wield their considerable power to try to maneuver unwilling women into their beds also seems a bit much.
       The Redbreast moves at a good pace, and the story -- in the past and present -- is fairly gripping throughout. The crimes along the way are more interesting than the criminal's ultimate goal, but it's all engaging enough. A good, solid thriller-read.

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The Redbreast: Reviews: Jo Nesbø: Other books by Jo Nesbø under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Jo Nesbø was born in 1960.

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© 2008-2023 the complete review

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