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Review: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

Contains spoilers

The Thirst. It’s a fitting title when you consider that fans of Jo Nesbo have been spitting feathers for three whole years, waiting for the return of the Oslo detective Harry Hole. Like a vintage wine, it has been worth the wait – one sip and you’ll have to enjoy the whole bottle.

The thirsty sensation extends to the villain of the story as well, but he’s not interested in wine. No, the city is beset with a ‘vampirist’, someone with a deep psychological disorder who gains sexual pleasure from drinking human blood. The story opens with the murder of Elise Hermansen, who has been bitten with a set of prosthetic metal teeth after a Tinder date.

Fear is spreading and police chief Mikael Bellman needs a result. He’s angling to move up the political ladder and there are even whispers he could be the next Minister of Justice. He turns to Harry Hole, who is enjoying life lecturing at the academy.

Harry reluctantly rejoins his old team, now led by the go-getter, Katrine Bratt. Bjorn Holm is on point once again leading the forensics work, and Gunnar Hagen, the man Harry still calls ‘boss’, oversees the department. There’s new blood too, in the form of Anders Wyller, a fresh young detective who idolises Harry and has a promising future. They are joined by Hallstein Smith, an expert on vampirism who will profile the killer.

Then there’s Bellman’s former fixer, Truls Berntsen. Inserted into the squad by the chief, he seems to be on the make. He’s an intriguing side character and if the killer’s prosthetic teeth don’t remind you of the killer in James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere, then maybe Berntsen will call to mind Ward Littell, created by the same author and appearing in American Tabloid.

What’s always so gripping about Jo Nesbo’s storytelling is the ebb and flow of plot strands. Oblique viewpoints, snippets of scenes and changing focal points create an unsteady atmosphere while the story drives on leaving fragments in its wake. The Thirst is never quite as wild as the previous rides Harry Hole has taken us on, and doesn’t go into a dreamlike stream of consciousness we’ve seen in the past, but its momentum still makes it unputdownable.

The murders continue, each more horrific than the last, and although Harry Hole gives the investigation the impetus it needs they face setback after setback. Someone is leaking vital details about the killings to a journalist at Verdens Gang, and panic is spreading. When Harry sets a trap for the killer, the man is one step ahead and slips his grasp.

Nesbo packs his story with suspense. With the brutality of the killings, and unexpected twists, the novel veers from police procedural towards horror and – similar to The Snowman – it certainly benefits from the tension.

But as multi-layered and complex as it is, the best thing about The Thirst is its dramatic set-piece ending. Jo Nesbo orchestrates a huge finale that draws in all the key players that’s so clever, dramatic and action-filled, you might just need a glass of fine wine to still your nerves.

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Garrick Webster

Garrick Webster is the co-founder of the Crime Fiction Lover website and enjoys the work of James Ellroy, Nordic crime writers and almost any other good noir-ish mysteries. By day he is a journalist, editor and copywriter.

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1 Comment

    I just finished The Thirst. This is the first Jo Nesbo thriller I’ve read. But it certainly won’t be the last. I’ve already ordered The Snowman. The Thirst was a book I simply could not put down. Harry Hole/Jo Nesbo I love you!

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