Killing Moon: A Harry Hole Novel (13) (Harry Hole Series)
“Nesbø never releases the heartstrings through an otherwise classic dark police procedural.”
Harry Hole, depressed Norwegian detective, has fled to California as the 13th book in this Nordic noir detective series opens. It takes one to know one, they say, and an aging actress and gambling addict named Lucille, hanging out in the bar with him, nails Harry as running as running away from something—his wife? No, she’s dead. “Ah. You’re running from grief,” Lucille readily assesses.
For Harry, that could be both the sum and his ending since he’s ready to give up on everything. But (with plenty of Leonard Cohen lyrics along the way) it turns out that seeing Lucille assaulted because of her gambling debts wakes up the protective side of this aging police detective. And that, in turn, readies him to accept a return to Norway to solve a crime, provided he can get a big enough fee to pay off Lucille’s life.
It's a poignant and emotional way to pull Harry Hole back into action, and Nesbø never releases the heartstrings through an otherwise classic dark police procedural. DNA analysis, cocaine trafficking, violent crime—it all piles up across nearly 500 pages of detection. Alternating points of view bring in forensic sleuth Alexandra Sturdza, as well as a highly unpleasant set of manipulative criminals. Sturdza, despite her first gray hairs, is glad to recall once being told “her body was a cross between a tiger and a Lamborghini” and her wry comments and quirky expertise add fun to the narrative.
As detective novels go, this one is on the edge of being a thriller, since there’s a “ticking clock” for Harry Hole to discover and arrest a serial killer. Technically, he’s only got to prove his client didn’t do the crime, in order to have the needed funds wired to his bar buddy Lucille’s account and get her released. But of course, proving innocence is much more direct if someone else is clearly guilty. Because he’s on a short time leash, Hole takes bigger risks and cuts more legal corners than might be wise. It makes sense, in the context, and it ramps up the suspense.
Fans of the series will find this sleuth’s grief and loss powerful and will appreciate how life forces Harry back into the work he does so well. Newcomers to Nesbø’s well-established investigations won’t struggle for context, though; Harry Hole’s sense of blame for his wife’s death and his overwhelming need to accept responsibility for another life are quickly established and push the plot.
At the core of Killing Moon is the painful reawakening of attachment in Harry’s life, through reconnecting with an old flame and her child. It’s a terrific contrast to the self-centered menace of criminals, and lets Nesbø dip into more classic tunes, beyond Leonard Cohen. The most satisfying lullaby Harry can offer to a child turns out to be “a low, slow chanting in a rough voice that now and then hit the notes of an old blues song about the perils of cocaine.” Truth seems to be the best currency with this child. For Harry, that in itself offers more risk and pain.
At the same time, it provides another hostage to keep Harry Hole investigating, as a new kidnapper invites Harry to check out the night’s moon: “You can see the eclipse is under way. When the moon is completely covered,” the villain offers, he’s going to slit the throat of someone Harry loves.
Running away from grief? Rephrase that: Once again, Harry Hole is running for the sake of love.