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Literature / Harry Hole

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Now comes without the line over the letter Ø.

Harry Holenote  is the protagonist in a series of crime thrillers by the Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. A detective in the Oslo Police Department, Harry is usually tolerated by his superiors and colleagues despite his habitual alcoholism and unorthodox methods because he is a brilliant detective. The first two novels in the series are set in respectively Australia and Thailand, while all the subsequent ones largely take place in and around Oslo. The series has been translated into several languages, reaching bestseller status in Britain and Germany, and contains ten novels so far:

  • 1997 Flaggermusmannen; English translation: The Bat (2012)
  • 1998 Kakerlakkene; English translation: Cockroaches (2013)
  • 2000 Rødstrupe; English translation: The Redbreast (2006)
  • 2002 Sorgenfri; English translation: Nemesis (2008)
  • 2003 Marekors; English translation: The Devil's Star (2005)
  • 2005 Frelseren; English translation: The Redeemer (2009)
  • 2007 Snømannen; English translation: The Snowman (2010)
  • 2009 Panserhjerte; English translation: The Leopard (2011)
  • 2011 Gjenferd; English translation: Phantom (2012)
  • 2013 - Politi; English translation: Police (2013)
  • 2017 - Tørst; English translation: The Thirst (2017)
  • 2019 - Kniv; English translation: Knife (2019)

Don Bartlett did the translations, which did not appear in chronological order. The first novel in the series, The Bat, finally appeared in English in late 2012, while Cockroaches showed up in late 2013 (making it the last of the first ten novels to be published in English). Additionally, for some reason, The Redeemer was not released in the United States until long after The Snowman and The Leopard were available.

Nesbø's strong anti-authoritarian streak and concern for women in peril have earned him comparisons to the Millenium Trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson, although Nesbø's work tends to be less overtly Anvilicious than Larsson's, though more depressing. His plotting has also been highly praised. The Redbreast was voted the best Norwegian crime novel of all time by a poll of Norwegian readers, and The Bat won the Glass Key award for Best Nordic Crime Novel.

A film adaptation of The Snowman was released on October 13, 2017 in the UK and October 20 in the US.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Truls Berntsen, to Bellmann's wife Ulla. Although she starts considering him less abhorrent when he risks his life to rescue her from being a hostage, while Mikael sits there and does nothing.
  • Abusive Parents: Near the end of The Devil's Star, it's revealed that Tom Waaler's father was abusive and regularly beat him at home. It's heavily implied that he had something to do with an accident that led to his father's death.
  • Affably Evil: Dubai from Phantom is quite polite and well-mannered. He's also a ruthless drug lord who has no qualms with murder, rape, and extortion if you get in the way of his business.
  • The Alcoholic: Harry has a very severe problem with it. He manages to get it under control multiple times throughout the series, but something traumatic or devastating always happens that often drives him to drink again.
  • Amicable Exes: When Harry and Martine (his one-time love interest from Redeemer) reunite in Phantom, they are on good terms.
  • Animal Metaphor: In The Redbreast, Brockhard senior talks to Helena about how his horses don't resent him at all in their captivity and are in fact quite glad to be in it, as part of his belief that "an inferior creature is never happier than when serving and obeying a superior creature", which in the context of the larger conversation about her marrying his son is very suggestive. When he gets into some trouble with the horse, Helena uses it as an example to refute the metaphor, saying that creatures which are not given the proper respect will not do as you say regardless of your "superiority".
  • Animal Motifs: The title of The Redbreast comes from a nickname the killer was given by his fellow soldiers during World War 2. Ivarsson, an unpleasant, racist policeman with an overly high opinion of himself from Nemesis, is compared multiple times by the narration and Harry himself to a crocodile.
  • Anyone Can Die: Present throughout the whole series, but espically in Knife, where the focal plot point is the murder of Rakel Fauke, the love of Harry's life.
  • Artistic License Law: A plot point in The Redbreast involves a character on trial in South Africa and threatened with execution, and at the end he is sentenced to death. The problem is that South Africa had abolished the death penalty well before 2000, when the novel takes place.
  • Asshole Victim: Bernt Brandhaug from The Redbreast is an entitled bureaucrat who abuses his position and influence to cheat on his wife and sleep with younger women, and when he takes an interest in Rakel, Harry's love interest, he moves to get him sent to Sweden and blackmails Rakel into sleeping with him by threatening her with the custody case of her son Oleg. When her father, the killer, discovers this, he murders Brandhaug, in no small part because he reminds him of Brockhard, the doctor who tried to keep him and Helena apart.
  • The Atoner: Red-herring suspects often turn out to be this. In particular, Knife has multiple examples. There's Roar Bohr, whose suspicious activities are all ultimately a result of the fact that he's still avenging his sister's rape and subsequent suicide, which he blames himself for not preventing, and there's Peter Ringdal, whose suspicious activities are all ultimately a result of the fact that he's dedicated his career to making up for the hit-and-run he was involved in many years ago.
  • Bathos: Despite the books being seemingly straight-laced thrillers, Nesbø frequently writes in subtle nodes of Black Comedy, most notably by having the crimes Harry investigates have silly or even outright absurd elements to them.
  • Beneath Suspicion: A staple of the books is that the killer is someone you would never expect.
    • It's especially notable in The Snowman, where the killer, Matthias, is hiding in plain sight from the very beginning.
    • Even more so in The Knife, when the killer — Rakel's killer, to boot — turns out to be good, old, well-liked Bjorn Holm.
  • Benevolent Boss: Bjanre Moslash and Gunnar Hagen are both fairly tolerant and supportive towards Harry, with Gunnar even volunteering to be The Scapegoat in Harry's place on one occasion (in his first book no less, when they'd only known each other for a short time), before the conclusion of the case eliminates the need for a scapegoat.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Common in most of the books, but one of the bigger examples is Trond Grette from Nemesis. Initially he is portrayed as a sensitive, loving husband and brother who is completely devastated by the loss of his wife Stine in a bank robbery, and doesn't want to give up the location of his brother Lev to the police, only relenting when he's informed that his brother might have killed her. As it turns out, he killed his own wife and hired a hitman to kill his brother as revenge for the two eloping.
  • Broken Ace: Gusto from Phantom. He's handsome, charismatic, and street-smart, but is filled with self-loathing and tries to fill the void in his heart with money, drugs, and extravagance, without success.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Harry is an on-and-off alcoholic who's hard to get along with at the best of times. He also happens to be a brilliant detective.
  • Cartwright Curse: Being Harry's Love Interest is risky. Appearing on his - very short - phone contact list also statistically isn't good for your health.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In The Redbreast, Sindre Fauke, a soldier who deserted the Norwegian forces who fought for the Nazis in World War 2, mentions to Harry multiple times that he's writing a book about the truth of Norway's involvement in the war compared to the whitewashed version that people are told about. Upon reading the book, it confirms Harry's suspicion that "Sindre Fauke" is in fact Gudbrand Johansen, who killed the real Sindre Fauke to punish him for desertion, and developed a split personality based on his friend Daniel Gudeson due to the trauma of the war and a grenade explosion that sent shrapnel into his forehead.
    • In the beginning of The Redeemer, Bjarne Møller, who's retiring from his position as head of Oslo police and getting transferred to another precinct, gives Harry a watch as a going-away present, and attention is drawn to it multiple times. It turns out that the watch was the same kind Tom Waaler had, and that it signaled membership in a corrupt government conspiracy which both he and Waaler were unknowingly a part of.
  • The Chessmaster: Katrine manipulating the police to ensure the case would be investigated in "The Snowman" through methods such as seining a letter supposedly from the killer.
  • Chick Magnet:
    • Gusto from Phantom is described as absurdly handsome, and has women eating out of the palm of his hand wherever he goes.
    • Harry himself leaves a rather absurdly long string of women infatuated with him thorough the series.
  • Child by Rape:
  • Child Soldier: Part of the Redeemer's backstory; he fought the serbs in the Croatian War of Independence.
  • Corrupt Cop: There are quite a few. Harry is an aversion, however.
  • Cowboy Cop: Harry himself. He frequently finds himself taking extreme measures and disregarding police protocol to solve cases, including requesting illicit surveillance by blackmailing one of its workers.
  • Crapsack World: Very much so, particularly when it comes to Harry's private life, and it gets worse as the series goes on.
  • Da Chief: Bjarne Moslash and Gunnar Hagen both have aspects of the more sympathetic side of this trope.
  • Deal with the Devil: Discussed. The narration explicitly states that Harry considers Waaler's offer to him in The Devil's Star as the equivalent of selling his soul.
  • Defective Detective: Harry, of course.
  • Determinator: Aside from the obvious example of Harry himself, there's his archenemy Tom Waaler. In The Devil's Star, Harry escapes from him in an elevator, tearing his arm off with it in the process. Fifteen minutes later, Harry emerges from the basement of the building to find Waaler dead, leaning towards the window of the locked basement door. He descended four floors while bleeding horribly, expiring only when the locked door prevented him from reaching Harry.
    • The eponymous Redeemer isn't going to let attack dogs or being drugged and handcuffed stop him.
  • Downer Ending: Phantom ends with the reveal that Harry's faith in Oleg was completely misplaced, because he really did kill Gusto, over both drugs and selling Irene as a sex slave for violin. Harry is then shot by Oleg, with his fate being left ambiguous. He does survive though, as revealed in the following book.
  • Drugs Are Bad: One of the central themes of Phantom is how truly devastating and all-consuming drug addiction is, and how it destroys the lives of not only the addicts themselves, but their loved ones as well.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first two books take place in Australia and Thailand respectively, as opposed to Norway where most of the series takes place. It's likely because of this that The Snowman was the first of the franchise to be adapted to film instead of starting with The Bat.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Gusto Hanssen and Mikael Bellman are both so good-looking that they tend to invoke it. Funnily enough, they have this effect on each other.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Tom Waaler. He is normally quite polite to most people, but it's made very clear that it isn't genuine, and only serves to make him creepier because of it.
  • Foreshadowing: In The Redbreast, it's mentioned a few times that Waaler, a racist policeman that both Harry and Ellen dislike, is a fan of Prince and loudly blasts his music in the police car. This is the hint that signals to the audience that "the Prince", a clandestine arms dealer for the neo-nazis in Norway, is none other than Waaler himself.
    • Early on in Nemesis, Trond Grette talks about how he loved his brother Lev despite his hooligan and criminal behavior, and specifically mentions how he used to write his brother's essays for him. This means he grew very skilled at imitating his brother's handwriting, and meant he was able to fake a convincing suicide note so that the police would not realize that he was in fact murdered by a hitman.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: In The Redeemer, Salvation Army officers Jon and Robert Karlsen have this dynamic, with Jon being the responsible, sensible and principled brother who is set up for promotion at the novel's beginning, and Robert the impulsive, dangerous sibling who is said to have raped teenage girls. It's subverted when it turns out it's the opposite: Jon Karlsen is a serial rapist, embezzler and murderer, who lied about his brother in order to throw off suspicion. Robert was the principled one trying to put an end to his brother's crimes. Jon's plot to hire the Redeemer and have his brother murdered in order to prevent him from divulging his crimes forms the backbone of the plot.
  • Freudian Excuse: Multiple killers in the novels, such as in The Snowman and The Leopard, have them, but Nesbø makes it plain that this does not in any way absolve them of responsibility for their actions.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: In The Redeemer, it's revealed that Harry's boss Bjarne Møller joined a conspiracy involving various police officers and government officials, which participated in various illegal activities like weapon smuggling. He did this under the belief that it was necessary to take extreme measures to fight organized crime in Oslo. Eventually he realizes that he became an accessory to the self-serving corruption of the group when Waaler is exposed, but it's too late, both in the sense that the damage has already been done in the form of the good men and women he's lost and that he can't back out of it easily without endangering his loved ones. He ends up divorcing his wife over it and gets transferred to another city as punishment. Harry eventually figures this all out and speaks to him, but declines to arrest him because he feels they aren't so different. He disappears and it's revealed in The Snowman that he committed suicide because he couldn't live with the guilt.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: In The Redbreast, Bjarne Møller, Harry's boss, chides him for suspecting his colleague Waaler, despite the fact that Waaler is described as a horrible person with crypto-fascist views and it's revealed that he's a neo-nazi sympathizer who helps them by using his police connections to smuggle weapons. In Nemesis, Harry's newer colleague Beate starts seeing Waaler and initially ignores Harry's warnings not to get involved with him. She ends up paying the price.
  • It's All About Me: By his own admission, Gusto never loved anyone and everything that he does is purely for his own self-interest. His narration hints that deep down he does hold some fondness for Irene but it wasn't enough to beat his craving for violin, which caused him to sell her to Ibsen as a sex slave.
  • Kavorka Man: Harry. He's described as not conventionally handsome, and is pretty difficult to deal with both personally and professionally, but he has numerous love interests and flings throughout the series.
  • Kicked Upstairs: What kicks off the plot in The Redbreast. Harry commits a mistake during a critical state visit by the US President when he shot a Secret Agent; however the higher-ups do acknowledge that there was a problem with communications between the parties involved so they couldn't just kick him out.
  • Made of Iron: Every book has at least one scene where Harry — usually through a combination of luck, guile, and sheer bloody-mindedness — survives something that would kill any normal person. Highlights include losing a finger, several attempted shootings, and several attempted drownings.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Provides the motives for the murders in The Snowman and Knife, with, in the later novel Harry himself being the father of the child of a friends wife due to a drunken one night stand.
  • Meaningful Name: Waaler (whose name is derived from "wall") explains that his family were builders who worked on the construction of houses in Norway. He states that he's always enjoyed building things himself, and compares his activities such as weapon smuggling, aiding neo-nazis, dealing with corrupt politicians, killing people to protect these activities to building cathedrals, saying that "no cathedral has ever been built without human bones and blood".
  • Morality Pet: His protege Ellen. So, it comes as no surprise that Harry takes it hard after her death. Her murder drives the underlying conflict in the Oslo Sequence and ultimately comes to a head in The Devil's Star.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Isabelle Skoyen is described as a "proactive, risk-taking cougar", and is suggested to be quite promiscuous, canonically sleeping with both Gusto and Bellman.
  • My Greatest Failure: Harry crashed a police car on a chase while intoxicated and got his partner killed, while he himself survived.
  • Never Suicide: Nemesis both subverts this and plays it straight: Anna Bethsen really did kill herself in a way she specifically designed to place as much suspicion on Harry and two of her other exes as possible. However, the murdered bank teller's brother-in-law, whom she was planning to run off with, was in fact murdered by a hit man hired by his brother. The inescapable conclusion is that all the crimes were committed as the result of love gone sour.
  • Never the Obvious Suspect: Very common in the books, where the killer's identity is frequently an impactful twist. It's subverted in Cockroaches, where the initial obvious suspect, Jens Brekke, is revealed to be behind the murder. It's zig-zagged in The Leopard, where Tony Leike, the initial and most obvious suspect, seems to be exonerated, but is revealed to be the killer after all. However, it's revealed that Sigmund Altman, who appeared to be a Red Herring, was The Man Behind the Man who manipulated Tony into committing the murders for revenge.
  • Norse by Norsewest: Averted in the novels that are set in Oslo, which is portrayed as full of druggies, neo-Nazis, prostitutes, corrupt policemen and businessmen, and the occasional Serial Killer.
  • Off the Wagon: Harry's a recovering alcoholic, but falls off frequently, especially whenever he goes through something traumatic.
  • Parental Substitute: Harry is considered by Oleg to be the only real father figure he's ever had, and calls him "dad" multiple times in the books.
  • Photographic Memory: Beate has one for faces.
  • Pretty Boy: Mikael Bellman and Gusto are described as attractive in an androgynous, model-like way.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Tom Waaler is described as having crypto-fascist views, including unflattering opinions of homosexuals, non-whites, and women. Also, the killer in The Snowman is revealed to be intensely misogynistic. He regards any unfaithful women as "whores" and thinks they deserve to die, notably not sharing this ire towards the men they have affairs with.
  • The Pornomancer: Arve Støp. He has very little trouble finding female companionship, so much so that he's fathered several illegitimate children.
  • Rape and Revenge: Turns out to be a driving force of the plot of Phantom, along with a liberal amount of Drugs Are Bad. Results in a major Downer Ending. Gusto sold his adoptive sister Irene as a Sex Slave in exchange for drugs. When Oleg finds out about this, he kills him.
  • Rape as Drama: Happens multiple times, due in no small part to the Crapsack World setting.
  • Sad Clown: Bjorn Holm is portrayed as a hipster and music lover who often brings levity to the series, but Knife reveals him to have some crippling insecurities and resentments, one of which is awareness that his quirks have kept him from advancing in the department.
  • The Shrink: Stig Aune, who treats Harry.
  • Split Personality: A plot point in The Redbreast. It turns out Sindre Fauke, who's actually Gudbrand, has a split personality based on his dead friend Daniel, who urges him to commit the murders in the novel.
  • Silver Fox: Arve Støp. He's a greying middle aged man but is quite suave and attractive.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Uriah aka Gudbrand and Helena from The Redbreast were in love but were kept apart due to the war and the involvement of Brockhard, a jealous doctor from an influential family. This is subverted when it's revealed that Gudbrand and Helena were in fact able to be together in the end, and had a daughter, Rakel, Harry's Love Interest.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Harry sometimes comess off that way to Rakel, though usually he has the excuse of wanting to protect her. Also, Truls Bernsten to Ulla Bellman. And some of more mentally damaged rapists to their victims in the series, particularly Svein Finne.
  • The Stoic: A rather large number of the sympathetic characters. Averted by Hole himself, though, who is frequently driven to drown his sorrows.
  • Serial Killer: A recurring trope, as Harry is one the very few people in Norway who has direct experience with serial killers. Played straight in The Bat and The Snowman, but subverted in The Devil's Star (and, to a lesser extent, The Leopard), where the killer turns out to have a rational motive.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Harry pulls one at the end of Gjenferd. Subverted, obviously, by there being another novel after it, implying that he survives. Nesbø also revealed in interviews around this time that Harry was not dead, and a careful reading of the passage of the book from the mother rat's perspective reveals that Harry's heart is still beating.
  • Shout-Out: The literal translations of Flaggermusmannen and Rødstrupe are Bat Man and Robin. Snømannen translates to Snow Man (Mr. Freeze?)
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Beate and Jack's son in "The Redeemer".
  • Talk Show Appearance: In The Snowman, Harry goes on Norway's most popular talk show to try and reassure the public about the Snowman killer. He finds out that the host had an affair with one of the victims and fathered a child with her, which causes him to be a suspect. It's eventually revealed that the affair was the motive for the murder, but he wasn't the killer.
  • That One Case: Several detectives with unsolved cases are killed in Police, with Erland Vennesla, the first victim, being emphasized as the one most hurt and consumed by that failure.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: This is how Waaler justifies their actions to Harry in The Devil's Star, saying that Norway has long become far too soft on criminals and that traditional laws are not sufficient, meaning that extreme or illegal actions are necessary to better the country. However, given the way they act in many other situations and the insight the narration gives regarding their thought process, it's far more likely that they just do what they do because they're a sadistic bully who gets off on exerting power over people weaker than them, and all their visionary talk is just to fool Harry into thinking he will be doing some good if he decides to work under them.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Mikael Bellmann. He's a thoroughly corrupt cop, but knows how to play the media and his superiors, and steadily rises through the ranks as the series goes on. As of Knife, he's managed to become Norway's justice minister.
    • Tom Waaler, another corrupt cop who despite his awful personality manages to get a lot of good press and promotions thanks to his efficiency in police work, to the point he is being eyed for a promotion to chief by the time of Devil's Star. He is eventually killed during a confrontation with Harry and his crimes are exposed.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Harry and Rakel have this dynamic. Rakel decides multiple times to try and distance herself and Oleg from Harry because he attracts danger to himself and others, but she can't seem to resist going back to him again.
  • Wham Episode: The status quo is challenged in every book, but so far The Knife takes the cake: Rakel Fauke dies and her killer turns out to be one of the long-standing positive characters, Harry's friend and fellow policeman. Also Harry himself is revealed to have sired a biological son, with Katrine Bratt.
  • White Man's Burden: Discussed. In The Leopard, Tony Leike genuinely believes in the concept, saying that the Africans were never better off than when being colonized and shown the ways of civilization, and that if left alone they would be left to their "barbaric ways". Either that, or he's using it as a self-serving excuse to profit off the country.
  • We Can Rule Together: In The Devil's Star, Tom Waaler, in an attempt to get Harry off his back, tries to get him to join his operations instead. He knows that Harry is going to be dismissed from the force and is having a bad patch with his love interest, so he flatters him and offers to have the dismissal withdrawn and a much larger salary if he is willing to work for him. Harry seems to accept at first given the desperate situation he's in, but it turns out to be just a ploy so he can get evidence incriminating Waaler.