Book title: The Thirst
Author: Jo Nesbo (translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith)
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Scandinavian noir readers will love ‘The Thirst’—the eleventh in the Harry Hole series—by best-selling Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo. Those who haven’t heard of Harry Hole (pronounced as ho-lay) should know that he is a near-alcoholic, chain-smoking brilliant, but soul-tortured police detective in Oslo.
Like most of the Scandinavian crime thrillers, the book jacket doesn’t give a clue to what is inside. The blurb at the back is also a bare-bones outline. For those who have been following Jo Nesbo and his Harry Hole, ‘The Thirst’ is the dessert at the end of a seven-course meal. For those who are picking up their first Nesbo, things might seem a bit incomplete—even though this book is technically a standalone crime thriller.
That does not mean you cannot read ‘The Thirst’ before the other 10 stories that feature Harry Hole—unless you cannot bear to stand not knowing the characters’ history as it evolved.
At the beginning of ‘The Thirst’, Hole is happily married to long-time girlfriend Rakel Fauke and retired from the police force. But he is forced out of retirement when a woman is murdered, which is how the story opens. As the name suggests, the killer has ‘the thirst’ for human blood and bites the woman with a set of metal teeth after she has been on a Tinder date. No wonder there has been warnings against swiping right.
Police chief, Mikael Bellman needs results so as not to let fear cripple Oslo and his own job is in peril. He is looking at a political career; a serial killer at loose is not the easiest route to become the next minister of justice. Hole, who is enjoying the routine of teaching at the police college, is blackmailed by Bellman to return to work on the case.
Even though the number of victims rise, Hole is able to put some momentum into the police investigation, yet the killer seems to be always a step ahead of Hole and his handpicked task force. There is also the matter of information leak that leads to an ambitious journalist at a local newspaper getting vital details of the investigation.
Hole’s team has some old and wizened names, along with some fresh blood. There is Harry’s ex-partner Katrine Bratt; the supposed-goofball constable Truls Berntsen, Bjorn Holm is once again the leading forensics man while Gunnar Hagen, who has been carrying a torch for Katrine still calls Harry the ‘boss’ even though Hole is now a consultant. Anders Wyller, the rookie detective who idolises Harry is the fresh addition while the academic Hallstein Smith is the vampirism expert, who also happens to be a disgraced researcher. Also, featuring Oleg Fauke, who is now Harry’s stepson and student at the police academy.
Nesbo’s storytelling has that gripping sense of danger—his scenes keep changing from the local bar to the scene of crime. The unsteady ebb and flow of the plot, especially when the chapters are titled as the days of the week mark the urgency and desperation in equal measures. It’s almost as if Nesbo wants the readers to feel how quickly—or slowly—the plot thickens or unravels, making it almost un-put-downable.
Even though the story starts slow, it is packed with suspense as Nesbo is only laying the groundwork for a dark and twisted trip into a depraved killer’s mind. As the brutality of the killings increases, so does demons from Harry’s own past start to resurface. And the best part of the book is its dramatic ending. Nesbo orchestrates a huge finale that draws in all the key players—to give a fitting end to the cat-and-mouse chase.