Much to the delight of his fans, King of Nordic Noir Jo Nesbo has returned to his internationally best-selling Harry Hole series. Readers around the world have fallen in love with Nesbo’s complex antihero despite his many flaws and in fact, because of them. With a habit of breaking the law and hurting loved ones, you wouldn’t expect to like Harry but it’s his imperfections which make him human and relatable. We’ve followed him on his turbulent journey across ten books as he’s evolved, Nesbo notes, from being “the passive detective’s eyes” to having “an active role, and in many ways he has become the batman, the active revenger, which is a paradox because the first book was called The Bat – a reference to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight and his batman stories…but in that book he was not at all the batman.”
To say Harry’s career and personal life have been tumultuous is an understatement. However, now working as a police academy lecturer after retiring from the homicide division and recently married, Harry Hole is actually happy. Nesbo observes that Harry Hole’s newfound stability is one of his biggest transformations throughout the series; “in the first three or four novels he had trouble bonding with people and he still has. He’s an introverted person but I think we have also seen him being won over by love. The love of his life Rakel has, where we’re at in the series right now, become his wife and at the start of The Thirst he’s a happily married man. For the first time in the series he is at ease with himself. He can wake up in the bed next to another person and feel good about it.”
For a man who is accustomed to high-stress and high-stakes, Harry Hole is unsettled by his own happiness, liking it to “moving on thin ice, it was better to crack the ice and swim in the cold water and freeze and struggle to get out than simply to wait until you plunged into it.” Just as Harry struggles to come to terms with his new life, it was a new experience for Jo Nesbo to write him as content, commenting that “there’s more monotony in happiness and of course stories are about conflicts. Happiness is about non-conflicts and it’s always hard to find a story in a world where everyone is happy. But that is the start of The Thirst. Harry is happy and every day is more or less the same. His only wish is that it will continue that way.”
Harry might hope for an ordinary life but, as you’d expect if you’re familiar with the series, it doesn’t last long. When the city of Oslo is traumatised by a twisted serial killer who targets unsuspecting Tinder dates, the Chief of Police knows Harry Hole is the only man for the case. Despite promising himself he’d never return after his last case put his loved ones in danger, Harry is reluctantly drawn back into the force to hunt down the one that got away.
Jo Nesbo believes that he “peaked in goriness with The Leopard” but The Thirst comes in close second as one of his most gruesome novels yet. The serial killer in The Thirst has a taste for blood, quite literally. Nesbo first stumbled across Vampirism whilst researching for another book that never materialised and was intrigued by it because, “it referred to fiction and myths and legends and I found this interesting that life imitates art and that is my field so I started writing more about it”. Nesbo recognises the controversial nature of Vampirism as a term and diagnosis; “not every physiologist would agree that there is such a thing as Vampirism. But some of the worst serial killers in crime history have been labelled Vampirists so it also has some historical context, which I found interesting. Vampirism was one of the starting points for The Thirst and of course the tile also refers to this urge to drink blood.”
It is clear that Nesbo is not afraid to explore controversial topics but he prefers to keep his own opinions hidden, especially when it comes to politics. He feels “it’s impossible to write anything without being political in some sense” and The Thirst touches on a range of topical themes, from gun control to police corruption. Yet, he doesn’t make his political agenda clear as “if it’s there on the page for everyone to see, I think there’s a tendency that I feel as a reader myself to put up your guard if there are political views that you don’t agree with and you’re not that open to the rest of the story.” Rather than make his views apparent, with a glint in his eye, he tells us “I’m a sneaky manipulator when it comes to politics. It’s there on the page somewhere but hopefully you won’t notice – I will just influence you without you knowing.”
On asking Jo Nesbo his advice to young writers he replied “don’t write crime novels, write something else” for fear of fresh blood encroaching on his territory, but there’s no chance of that happening anytime soon with his triumphant return to the Harry Hole series. Gritty, addictive and deliciously disturbing, The Thirst will leave you hungry, or should we say, thirsty for more.