By Jo Nesbø
Detective Harry Hole is bit of a stereotype. Brilliant, but troubled, he drops out of law enforcement after his personal life is upended by his last big case, as detailed in Jo Nesbø ’s previous novel, The Snowman. In The Leopard, Hole follows hard-boiled detective form by being beaten up, pursued by a blonde bombshell, and haunted by demons from his past. Hole is extremely self-destructive, however, even for a tortured ex-cop. When detective Kaja Solness finds him, as per reluctant orders from her superiors, he is strung out on opium in Hong Kong. Nesbø does not shy away from graphic description, not only of Hole’s habits, which can be masochistic and disgusting, but also from portrayals of the serial killings Hole is trying to solve. The reader should be warned that the book begins with a graphic murder and such scenes are interspersed throughout the novel.
Despite his self-hatred, Hole is a character that the reader wants to like, even when he is despairing over his last case — the infamous killer The Snowman, whom Hole has condemned to life in prison — or destroying his own relationships with his father, his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, and his current fling.
Hole’s dying father, in fact, serves as a metaphor for Hole’s own destruction and for the downfall of The Snowman.
In all, The Leopard is a fast, engaging novel, though Nesbø ’s descriptions of infighting within the Oslo police department are surprisingly dull. Hole and his nemesis Mikael Bellman are struggling for their places within the hierarchy, but their battles with the serial killer Prince Charming and with their own respective demons are more interesting.