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Literature / Harry Hole

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Harry Hole is the protagonist in a series of crime thrillers by Norwegian 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)

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 / Stalker with a Crush: Truls Berntsen, to Bellmann's wife Ulla.
  • Anyone Can Die
  • Beneath Suspicion: Shows up in most of the books, but particularly notable in The Snowman
  • Corrupt Cop: There are quite a few. Harry is an aversion, however.
  • Cowboy Cop: Harry himself.
  • Crapsack World: Very much so, particularly when it comes to Harry's private life, and it gets worse as the series goes on.
  • 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.
  • Drugs Are Bad: It is highly unlikely that anyone who reads Phantom will have any desire to try opiates afterwards.
  • Freudian Excuse: The killers in The Snowman and The Leopard both have them, but Nesbø makes it plain that this does not in any way absolve them of responsibility for their actions.
  • My Greatest Failure: Harry crashed a police car on a chase while intoxicated and got his partner killed, while he himself survived.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 at least three times, due in no small part to the Crapsack World setting.
  • 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?)
    • Harry's police colleague and trusted associate is called Bjarne Mjølle. Officer Mjølle is an Americanophile who often affects cowboy gear and loves old-time country and western music.
  • Your Cheating Heart: The murderer of The Snowman targets unfaithful women. His Freudian Excuse is discovering his own mother cheating as a teenager.


Example of: