PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo

John Timpane
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

A brilliant weave of human lives and consciousness.


The Devil's Star

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 452 pages
Author: Jo Nesbo, Don Bartlett (Translator)
Price: $25.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2010-03
Amazon

When solving problems, on what do we train our attention? Where is the telling clue? Right in front of us? Or at the edges of attention?

And if that's where it is, at the edges, how can we bring it to consciousness? How do we force it up? So often, we realize later that we've been aware, all along, of a crucial piece of a puzzle, yet one part of the mind did not let the rest know. How can we get that awareness into the light, and so begin?

That's the drama beneath the drama of Jo Nesbø's new novel, The Devil's Star. Nesbø is a celebrated Norwegian noir writer, a member of the current class of superlative Scandinavians showing the rest of the world how to write a proper mystery. This one, a very good one, stars his lead figure, detective inspector Harry Hole, alcoholic and existential agonizer.

Harry has starred in eight books to date. The Devil's Star, the fifth, appeared in Norwegian in 2003, and by my count, it is the third to be translated (stylishly here by Don Bartlett) into English. It is set in a sweltering, becalmed Oslo in high summer. A hot, airless city deserted beneath a merciless sun is a fitting backdrop for a wave of killings that hits the town.

Harry is a hunk of human wreckage, a severe alkie, ciggie fiend, loser, and saboteur of human relationships. He's also a fabulously effective detective, both a penetrating rationalist for whom "there are no paradoxes" and a soul torn wide open to paradoxes, contradictions, and absurd truths. He manages to harness these keenly tuned, and largely contradictory, senses to solve cases.

Actually, there are two mysteries, both of visceral urgency. First, the killings: A dead woman is found with a tiny red diamond, cut into a five-pointed star, beneath an eyelid. (Such perverse details permeate the book.) From this point on, the pentagram, the "devil's star", and the number five, assume terrific, fatal significance. Hole sees it early on: The brilliant, twisted killer is toying with his pursuers, planning and executing insoluble crimes while deliberately trailing behind him a path of clues.

Left over from Nemesis, the previous book, which you needn't have read to enjoy The Devil's Star, is the death of colleagues while performing their duties. Harry believes a fellow member of the department, rising star Tom Waaler (and what a supremely nasty piece of work he is — he speaks with such poison suasion), is responsible. He has no idea what an abyss this will open up. Especially since Harry's boss assigns him to work these murders with Waaler.

Add a third mystery: Harry, a man who has never solved himself. Nesbø is good at the grinding spectacle of an alkie trying to kick his addictions, the hangovers, deliriums, nightmares, insomnias, rage storms, surreal dragons of pain and failure. He loves Rakel and her son, Oleg, and he tries and falters throughout the novel to repair his fitful, failed bond with them.

Harry also is driven by a turgid, blurry need to find his man. Or men. And he tries everything, forcing himself to the nexus between rational and irrational, taking an overdose of flunitrazepam to induce a trance while concentrating on a pentagram. This brings on some of the wildest, most superb writing in the book:

He heard the pained scream of the tram, a cat's footsteps on the roof, and an ominous rustling in the bursting green foliage in the yard... He heard the yard groan, the cracking of the putty in the window frames... He heard the piercing scraping sound of the sheets against his skin and the clatter of his impatient shoes in the hall.

Insights emerge that touch off the mighty second half of The Devil's Star. He comes to see his revelation as "a gift, theft, an undeserved favor from an angel."

There's much such writing in a book marvelously structured, each joint in place as true carpentry. Narration moves among minds, giving us unforgettable pictures of a variety of human lives.

In the last seconds of her life, a bored, airheaded secretary looks in a mirror, rattling on to herself: "Again time seemed to pass slowly. Unendingly slowly. Once more she caught herself thinking that time was ticking away."

An old lady reminisces about her affair with a Nazi officer. We pass from daydream to daydream, from cop to journalist to actor to guy at the counter. What results is a weave of human lives and consciousness.

It's a memorable cast of characters, as well, from Harry and Waaler to their long-suffering boss Bjarne Møller, to Harry's cabbie, drug connection, and fellow classic-rock fan, Øystein, to Beate Lønn, genius and victim. Remorseless, horrified suspense marks the final third of the book, which opens out to post-Communist Europe, the unruly subconscious of the Scandinavian novel.

And everywhere, the incredible, deviling grapple with the edges of (sub)consciousness, the tricks we play to get it to spill the beans, the lengths we'll go to discover what the hidden part of us already knows — that's Harry Hole's constant ordeal, and what has made him, deservedly, one of Europe's best-known, best-read detective heroes.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.