Title: The Leopard
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Hardback: 611 pages
Publication Date: 20/01/2011
Harry Hole is a character with an incredible, almost rockstar-like ability for self-destruction. His heavy-duty alcoholism and chimney-like smoking habit have been recurring themes in all of the five previous novels in Jo Nesbø’s Hole-led series. But in his latest offering, The Leopard, Harry really takes his destructive habits to a whole new level.
Mentally scarred by the events that took place in 2010’s The Snowman, the opening of The Leopard finds Harry in the slums of Hong Kong, emaciated, in debt to the Triads and addicted to opium. But when a number of young women in Oslo are stalked, kidnapped and then murdered in gruesomely ingenious ways [one of them using a horrific contraption that would have been at home in a Saw film!], the police begin to suspect that they may have a serial killer on their hands and realise that there is only one person who has the knowledge to handle the situation – Harry Hole.
Harry is initially wary [he resigned from Oslo’s Crime Squad after The Snowman], but if there’s is one thing that he finds more addictive than all of his other vices, it’s the thrill of the investigation. So it isn’t long before his resistance crumbles and he finds himself working the case, assisted by Bjørn Holm and Kaja Solness [Harry does seem to be a magnet for Nordic beauties!]. But the investigation isn’t helped by a battle that’s raging between Oslo’s Crime Squad and Kripos. Budget cuts mean that only one can survive, so whoever catches the killer wins the right to be Norway’s main murder investigation unit. And with a Kripos mole in the Crime Squad, Harry must choose his allies wisely . . .
Nesbø novels are big, weighty reads and The Leopard is no exception [the hardback is a veritable brick of a book]. This isn’t a negative, far from it. For you never feel that Nesbø is anything other than in complete control of the plot – which unfurls beautifully in this novel – or that there are any extraneous elements [which is sometimes the case with very large books]. And it also allows Nesbø to really explore his characters, and their relationships, in far greater depth than would be possible if the novels were shorter [although when I say ‘explore his characters’ I’m not referring to the scene when Harry is ‘intimately searched’ by a customs official!].
The Leopard focuses more on Harry than any of the previous five Nesbø novels translated into English, exploring the question of what makes Harry tick and to whom – if anyone – he is loyal. For, although his various addictions would seem to be signs of a selfish and self-centered man, he describes the police as his “tribe” and the catalyst for his return from Hong Kong is the discovery that his estranged father is terminally ill.
This, for me, is what makes the Harry Hole series so special – the characters are both flawed and multi-dimensional, but also have the capacity to evolve over each successive book. Indeed, Nesbø is so skilled at characterization that you find yourself growing genuinely attached to individuals within the books. So imagine my delight when my favourite character from The Snowman – Katrine Bratt – makes an appearance in The Leopard [especially as at the end of The Snowman I didn’t think we were going to see again].
With its multi-layered plot, complex characters, political skullduggery, attention to detail and its introduction of a new nemesis for Harry to contend with, The Leopard was a stunning, page-turning treat of a read and a worthy addition to one of the best detective series around.