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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Devil's Star

Jo Nesbø

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To purchase The Devil's Star

Title: The Devil's Star
Author: Jo Nesbø
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 452 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Devil's Star - US
The Devil's Star - UK
The Devil's Star - Canada
L'étoile du diable - France
Das fünfte Zeichen - Deutschland
La stella del diavolo - Italia
La estrella del diablo - España
  • Norwegian title: Marekors
  • Translated by Don Bartlett

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Our Assessment:

B : stuffs a bit much into it, but winds up pulling it off fairly well

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftenbladet A 29/10/2003 Sven Egil Omdal
Dagbladet . 17/10/2003 Kurt Hanssen
The Guardian . 19/11/2005 Laura Wilson
The Independent . 24/10/2005 Emma Hagestadt
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/3/2010 Marilyn Stasio
The Telegraph . 13/11/2005 Susanna Yager
The Washington Post . 15/3/2010 Patrick Anderson
Die Welt A 29/4/2006 Elmar Krekeler

  From the Reviews:
  • "Det er konstruksjonens perfeksjon som gjør det vanskelig å gi seg beundringen helt i vold. Nesbø kan håndverket nesten for godt. De ulike underhistoriene veves sømløst inn i hverandre. Han bygger nye spenningstopper hele tiden, ofte med små språklige grep som minner om den filmteknikk som Alfred Hitchcock beskrev med ordene: "The terror is not in the bang, but in the anticipation of the bang"." - Sven Egil Omdal, Aftenbladet

  • "Stedvis er Marekors ikke like inspirerende lesning, men mot slutten gir Nesbø handlingen en 180 graders vri (sånn omtrent), og gjør det jeg trodde var en streit massemorder-thriller om til en urovekkende historie om kjærlighet og hevn." - Kurt Hanssen, Dagbladet

  • "The Devil's Star is a well-crafted rollercoaster of a book. (...) Nesbo sets a cracking pace, the shambolic Hole is exasperating and endearing by turns, and a series of spectacular plot twists lead to a thrilling finale. Highly recommended." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "In comparison with Fossum's Sejer or Mankell's Wallander, Harry Hole remains a B-list gumshoe -- never quite providing the moral centre we crave. Nesbø's pulpish pyrotechnics can result in too much of a rush, a sensation not helped by an occasionally clumsy translation. Maybe we want our Scandinavian detectives not in Technicolor, but in miserable black-and-white." - Emma Hagestadt, The Independent

  • "For all its narrative intricacy, The Devilís Star explores no comparable political or ethical issues, either in its by-the-book hunt for the serial killer or in its heroís morbid obsession with his own nightmares." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Finding the murderer is not the end of the story, but the beginning of another mystery, and to solve that Harry has to go on the run. It's a stunning twist, which turns a straightforward police procedural into a first-rate thriller." - Susanna Yager, The Telegraph

  • "The Devil's Star is a big, ambitious, wildly readable story that pits the protagonist against a serial killer and an enemy within the Oslo police department. The novel has its flaws, but for most of the way it's compelling." - Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

  • "Das fünfte Zeichen ist ein hochkomplexer, ultradüsterer, abgründiger Polizeiroman, der beste skandinavische Tradition mit einer manchmal surrealistischen Bilderflut speist. Fabelhaft. Und erschütternd." - Elmar Krekeler, Die Welt

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 Devil's Star begins with water from an overflowing shower making its way through a floor and into the apartment below, but rather than describing that in a straightforward manner, Nesbø spins a set piece that manages to get in much of the history of the building, down to the fact that the bricklayer who worked there more than a century ago mixed horsehair and pig's blood into his mortar (and that he was a father of five). The descriptive digression serves a bit of a purpose, but not nearly enough; mystery writers have gotten way too enamored of this sort of thing, and the tired trick does not make for a promising beginning. Neither do some of the other too-familiar tropes that Nesbø indulges in, notably making his protagonist an alcoholic who is, at the outset, in danger of losing himself completely in drink.
       Of course, straight-arrow and loyal policeman Harry Hole -- "The lone wolf, the drunk, the department's enfant terrible and, apart from Tom Waaler, the best detective on the sixth floor" -- has good reason to try to numb himself with booze: as readers of the previous Hole-novels (even just the few translated into English ...) will remember, he lost a partner he was very close to (in The Redbreast) -- and he's certain (but can't prove) fellow police officer Waaler was behind it. Still, the alcoholic excess is pretty boring, and even Nesbø realizes he has to sober up his protagonist to really get anything moving in this novel; fortunately, Hole (though occasionally tempted) does show the willpower to lay off the drink for most of the novel, losing himself in work instead.
       But Nesbø lays it all on pretty thick: it's summer -- one of the hottest in years --, and barely anyone is in Oslo -- or at work, making for an undermanned police force --, and Hole has also pretty much blown it with the woman he had developed a relationship with. Hole even gets close to canned -- the papers are waiting for the Chief Superintendent's signature, but conveniently even he is also out of the office for the next three weeks -- but then, of course, comes the case that allows Hole to redeem himself (and a whole lot more, as it turns out).
       The case is that of a serial killer -- a term the police don't want to use until they're absolutely certain that this is what they're dealing with, because it's something almost completely unheard of in Norway. But that's what they have on their hands: carefully staged crimes, with a particular pattern to them and some common denominators, which include a five-pointed-star-shaped diamond left behind and a finger removed.
       Yes, Nesbø even appears to resort to a cut-and-paste-type serial killer, with some intricate and clever-seeming (but entirely predictable, by mystery-standards) method to his madness, and for a while the novel putters on -- quite enjoyably, but all a bit too simply and predictably -- with the killer one step (or several weeks) ahead of the police, and the police slowly putting together the pieces. Admirably, however, Nesbø has more in store: Hole already sensed that the crimes had been: "carried out too perfectly, almost mechanically, according to the book", and Nesbø comes up with a neat reversal, when things turn out not to be at all what they seem. The solution to the murder-riddle is still more complicated than is plausible, but it's a satisfying twist.
       Nesbø also does well in making Waaler -- the lead detective on the case -- a more complex figure than he at first seemed. He admits he is not quite the straight arrow Hole is, but argues he's still doing what's right. And he has a proposition for Hole, which would make Hole's life a whole lot easier (and provide him with a better income), inviting him to join "our team". It almost seems as if Waaler can be trusted .....
       Along with Hole's long-suffering love interest (and her son, who has really taken to Harry), some of the witnesses and relatives of the victims to the crimes, and Hole's very small and motley crew of friends and associates (including the few on the police force that can handle him), Nesbø manages to serve up a solid thriller-read that offers a fair number of decent surprises. If anything, the novel is over-full, stuffed with a few too many good (and a few really bad) ideas and turns. But -- except when he gets carried away by second-rate mystery tropes (the awful opening scene, the brief asides involving unnamed characters (sometimes possibly and sometimes obviously the murderer) in settings away from Harry and the police investigation) -- Nesbø carries the story well.
       The conclusion is satisfying in a primal sort of way, which makes it easier to excuse that aspects of it are rather silly. As some critics have pointed out, in The Devil's Star Nesbø plays dangerously close to the line separating mystery and parody.
       Rough around its many edges, The Devil's Star is still a satisfying and entertaining thriller, and while Nesbø leaves Hole hanging too uncertainly for much of the novel -- what with his desire to drown his woes in alcohol, and his uncertainty about how to win back the love of his life -- there's enough to him to create and sustain interest in the rest of the series.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 March 2010

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The Devil's Star: 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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© 2010-2023 the complete review

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