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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Leopard

Jo Nesbø

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To purchase The Leopard

Title: The Leopard
Author: Jo Nesbø
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 517 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Leopard - US
The Leopard - UK
The Leopard - Canada
Le léopard - France
Leopard - Deutschland
Il leopardo - Italia
  • The eighth Harry Hole book
  • Norwegian title: Panserhjerte
  • Translated by Don Bartlett

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Our Assessment:

B+ : takes its time, and a few too many brutal close calls, but a good chapter in the Harry Hole saga

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 21/1/2011 Laura Wilson
The Independent . 14/1/2011 Paul Binding
San Francisco Chronicle . 18/12/2011 Tom Nolan
The Telegraph . 1/3/2011 Jake Kerridge
USA Today . 17/12/2011 Charles Finch
The Washington Post F 19/12/2011 Patrick Anderson

  Review Consensus:

  Opinions all over the place

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) big and meaty, but easily digestible, slab of a read, ably translated by Don Bartlett. (...) The ticking clock, the tension expertly racheted ever upwards, the changing scenery, the constantly shifting goalposts and his effortless, triumphant outpacing of the reader's ability to guess what's going to happen will keep you gripped to the last page." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "The Leopard's unflagging narrative tension, breathtaking surprises and many confrontations with half-suspected treachery (well served by translator Don Bartlett's ear for dialogue) are superb. But Hole's too-numerous physical endurance tests, his breakneck excursions abroad (to the war-beset Rwanda-Congo frontier), fail to satisfy because they so obviously belong to bestsellerdom, despite (maybe because of) the extraordinarily intricate plotting that has arranged them." - Paul Binding, The Independent

  • "Harry Hole -- impulsive, insubordinate, self-destructive -- comes off as a larger-than-life figure, more suited perhaps to a comic book or a Norse myth than to a contemporary police thriller. And The Leopard -- whose gruesome action pivots back and forth between Norway and the Congo -- has maybe one too many head-spinning twists and hairbreadth escapes for its own good and some readers' patience. But if you're willing to suspend more than the usual amount of disbelief, The Leopard rewards you with a finale as unexpected and thought-provoking as any in recent mystery-fiction memory." - Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Nesbø is such a terrific action writer that oneís heart leaps when the running-about starts; but thatís partly because it shuts Harry up for a bit." - Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph

  • "Where Nesbø weakens by comparison is when he turns to non-criminal matters. The Leopard features a variety of these, from a turf war with another crime bureau to the illness of Harry's father to Harry and Kaja's romance, all of which slow the book's pace and end in predictable noir moralizing." - Charles Finch, USA Today

  • "The Leopard could have been improved, if not saved, had someone cut a hundred or so pages of its inane chitchat, dumb jokes and pointless memories of peopleís childhoods. But even the most adroit editing could not have solved the novelís worst problem: its elusive plot. (...) After a seeming eternity of confusion, Nesbo finally has Hole explain whatís going on, whereupon the story advances from incoherent to preposterous." - 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 Leopard picks up the adventures of Harry Hole after The Snowman, with the Norwegian cop with a penchant for serial killers pretty much down and out: he's added opium to the narcotics he tries to drown his sorrows with, and he's fled Norway and is holed up in Hong Kong. Not that he had planned on settling down there, but he managed to get himself stuck -- quickly accumulating some gambling debts that he couldn't pay off and that prevent him moving on. As luck would have it, however, it appears a new serial killer has begun to leave a bloody trail in Norway, and so the police are eager to get Harry back home, and on this case. (Harry is less eager to get back home, and not easily cajoled: it takes the fact that his father is dying to get him to play along.)
       The Oslo police Crime Squad is particularly interested in solving this case because the Ministry of Justice is thinking of consolidating how major homicide investigations are handled -- and letting Kripos (the local version of the FBI, more or less) take the lead in all such investigations. The police don't like that idea much; unconventional but result-getting Harry is the desperate wild card they're playing: if he can solve the case, that might justify them continuing to be in charge of their own cases. The Kripos investigation is led by Mikael Bellman, who likes to be very much in control, and who is a quick learner; he comes with some baggage, but it takes a while before that really comes to haunt him. Meanwhile, he can cause the police -- and Harry -- lots of grief. All the resulting departmental jousting (and subterfuge and blackmailing) turns out to be surprisingly entertaining for the course of the investigation, a very effective subplot.
       The murders in The Leopard are truly gruesome and brutal. It takes a while to figure out that there is a connection between the victims: they were all together in an isolated cabin one specific night. But even just figuring out who else was there that night -- and thus might be next to get picked off -- is difficult.
       Harry has to try to fly under the radar much of the time: his investigation isn't really authorized, and he only has a small team to work with. It doesn't help that there's a big, fat leak which leads to Bellman getting pretty much any and all pertinent information instantly. And there's also the personal stuff: aside from missing Snowman-targets Rakel (and son Oleg) who have been moved someplace safe -- but meaning also largely out reach -- whom he still pines for, there's the distraction of Harry's dad, who is on his deathbed.
       At over five hundred pages, The Leopard packs a whole lot in. Clear suspects emerge (and are arrested), but the story turns out to be more complicated. Harry even zips down to the Congo -- blowing half the department's travel budget in one go -- to hunt down some clues: it's the sort of thing that is a bit of a stretch, but Nesbø just about gets away with it. Still, the literary rule of thumb is: you can get away with one excursion to the Congo in a book, but two is overkill, and unfortunately Nesbø does send Harry back ..... It's colorful stuff, but, yeah, it's a bit much.
       The large cast of characters and complex interrelationships among them -- personal (there are lots of hidden personal connections) and professional. Bellman is an entertaining bad good guy, and while the crimes are a bit silly in all their complications, they do make for an interesting (if very convoluted) cat and mouse game. With avalanches and bubbling volcanoes, not to mention one really, really nasty murder-device, The Leopard also isn't your conventional murder investigation story.
       Of course, The Leopard works best not as a stand-alone thriller, but if seen as just another chapter of the Harry Hole saga. There's little personal movement forward here: dad dies, there's a new woman in the picture, sort of -- but there's also still the hard-to-forget Rakel -- ; in fact, it seems Harry just comes full circle here (though of course it's clear that he'll break -- or be forced -- out of that loop soon enough). So The Leopard is just another chapter of Harry's life -- but it's a pretty good one at that. As a stand-alone thriller it's more run-of-the-mill -- a cut above average, but hardly anything of particular note.
       (Given what Nesbø has built up in these books, which more than most series should be read in order, it's all the more disappointing that the first two volumes -- setting the whole stage, and introducing the character -- are still not available in English.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 April 2012

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The Leopard: 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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© 2012-2023 the complete review

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