Review of Mysteries and Thrillers Review of Thriller

Harry Hole and Horrible Homicides – Knife by Jo Nesbø

If your eyes are fine, do not read a book in large print format. I’m sure the format is indispensable for people who can’t see well, or have poor eyesight, but it is a pain to people whose eyes are OK. I bought Jø Nesbo’s “Harry Hole” murder mystery, Knife, in large print format by accident more than two years ago. It is only my natural penny-pinching nature that forced me to read it. It was excellent, though the print format was a pain.

Knife, by Jo Nesbo – normal print edition. Translated from the Swidish by Neil Smith. Originally published in Swedish as Kniv, 2019. (Murder Mystery, Thriller; Publisher of English translation: ‎Alfred a Knopf Inc.; July 9, 2019; hardcover; 451 pages)

When bold is not beautiful

The problem is that many words in this format have been printed in bold – presumably because they are important or need emphasis. I have a brain, I do not need to be told where to place emphases in a sentence, or which words are important. In fact, the bold words spoil the reader’s sense of anticipation and the suspense of the plot.

For instance, I thought as follows on many occasions: This woman refers to her husband and child as “them” (p. 416). And “them” is bolded. So “they” are important. Are they involved in the killing or did she just say the word with anger or disdain?

Thank goodness, the publisher did not put in bold the two short sentences (yes, just two, and I went back and found them) in the whole novel of a thumping 719 pages in the large print edition, which are the clues to the mystery. They have, in fact, created pages of red herrings with their darn bolded words.

How was it?

So, apart from this irritation provided by Random House, how was Knife? It was entertainingly gruesome.

I thought Harry Hole – the lanky, blonde, brilliant but bat-shit crazy detective – was going to die for sure, either from drinking, or suicide, or from being tortured with the knife of the title. The novel has a raft of possible suspects for the main murder, and Nesbø skilfully (mis)directs Harry – and the reader – time after time, from one possibility to another.

His possible suspects are as interesting as his protagonists, especially the women. Nesbø describes one of them as beautiful, with small, sharp teeth. I had a problem imagining that – like a woman with a mouthful of fangs or murder mittens?! Can that be beautiful?

The things you can do with a knife

The story kicks off with a graphic, toe-curlingly gross description of one of the suspects torturing a woman with a knife. (His death is also one of the most creative, and most gruesome that I’ve read for some time. Ooh – it made even me wince.) Throughout, we get to learn about different sorts of knives, and what they’re used for, and which ones are used when. We get to know about international foreign aid teams working in war zones in the Middle East. We get to know about what exactly, what the one thing in people’s memories is, that drive them crazy.

Not the large print edition: The opening paragraphs of the novel, from the Random House website

Will Harry live?

At one point, I was so firmly convinced that Nesbø was writing his famous character out of the series and was killing him off, and that there was no way in hell that Harry would survive, that I got all mopey and skipped to the end. And then I had to go back and read it all again. Ah, miracles do happen. It has something to do with a blue dress caught in a tree in a river, and a car seat tilted back…

What is the overall motivation for the characters in Knife, Harry in particular? The themes are children, memory, and posterity: every child is potentially a better version of their parents and able to start life with a clean slate, and in every adult’s memory, the mistakes they have made and the chaos they got into, disappear into the background. As Harry thinks to himself as he watches his son, “Oleg”:

“Who knows, perhaps we would acknowledge the meaningless chaos of coincidences that make up our lives if – instead of writing autobiographies – we had written down our predictions for life, how we thought our lives would turn out. We could forget all about them, then take them out later on to see what we had really dreamed about.”

Knife, by Jo Nesbø, p. 701, Random House Large Print Edition

In the quote above, the publishers had bolded the word “really”. Really?! Yes, they did. Really. Did I? No. You have brains, you can figure it out yourselves.

This quote is part of a few pages in which Harry recalls his grandfather’s words to him about the paths you choose in life, and how you should think about what your life turned out to be. Harry is feeling philosophical.

He gets even more philosophical when he has to decide what he wants to do with his life. His solution is to throw a dice. That’s Harry Hole for you: he always learns something from the killers who he tracks down.

And so does the reader, so I’ll be buying whichever Harry Hole novel comes next, but this time, in normal print format.

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