Archive for Jo Nesbo

Flaggermusmannen [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , on May 25, 2014 by xi'an

“Cold, concise statistics. Keyword number one is statistical significance. In other words, we are looking for a system that cannot be explained by statistical chance (…) this group constitutes less than five percent of the female population. Yet I was left with seven murders and over forty rapes.” J. Nesbø

Another first novel! The Bat (Flaggermusmannen) by  Jo Nesbø has been sitting in my bedside book pile for quite a while, until I decided to read it a few days ago. It is the first appearance of Inspector Harry Hole in a published book and was written in 1997, although translated into English much much later. (The book was nominated as Best Norwegian Crime Novel of the Year and as Best Nordic Crime Novel of the Year.)

“Life consists of a series of quite improbable chance occurrences (…) What bothers me is that I’ve got that lottery number too many times in a row.” J. Nesbø

I read the (later) novel The Redeemer a few years ago, taking place mostly in Norway and kept a globally positive impression about the book, even though the plot was a bit stretched… The Bat has somewhat the same defects as The Ice Princess in that it sounds too much like an exercise in thriller writing, albeit in a much less clumsy style! The central character of Harry Hole is well-done, in an engaging-despite-his-shortcomings style and the way he gets along with most of the people he meets is rather realistic. However, the setting of the first novel in Australia (rather than Norway) is sort of a failure in that the country and Sydney are more caricatures than realistic in any degree…. For instance, every aboriginal Harry meets must resort to traditional tales involving emus and lizards and other local animals. One such tale would be ok but so many are just a bore. The title itself is connected to yet another aboriginal myth. And to the murders occurring way too often in the novel. Similarly, every foreign backpacker met in the pages of The Bat is either dumb or on her way to become a waitress to recover from a failed love affair. And a major character is a transvestite playing in a theatre, maybe because Nesbø has watched Priscilla Queen of the Desert a few years earlier… And the Australian police officers sound both very heavy in colloquialism and quite light in detective skills. Lacking an obvious connection to a series of young women murders throughout Australia. The second part of the novel gets too artificial to remain gripping and I completed the book with a feeling of chore accomplished…, not of surprise or shock at the resolution of the murders. I thus concur with many other readers of the book that it is certainly far from being the best in the series!

revenge, death penalty, prisons, &tc.

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2014 by xi'an

divide1In the latest Sunday Review of the New York Times, the Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo has a tribune on revenge against misdeeds and law as institutionalized revenge. Somewhat hidden in the current justifications of the legal system(s). (As an aside, he mentions the example of the Icelandic Alþingi where justice was dispensed once a year, resulting in beheadings, stake burnings, and drowning in the pond depicted above…) This came a few days after another tribune on a similar topic by Charles Blow, following the “botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett”, entitled “Eye-for-eye incivility” (an understatement if any!), and arguing  about the economic inefficiency of the death penalty. Besides the basic moral quandaries of taking someone else’s life, perfectly summarised by Franquin in the following dark strip:

Franquin's piece on death penalty, part of the Idées Noires album...This sequence of tribunes links to one of my pet theories, which is that imprisonment is the most inadequate way of addressing crime and law breaking in (modern?) societies.  Setting fully aside the moral notions of revenge and punishment, which aim more at the victim or victim’s relatives than at the perpetrator, and of redemption and remorse, which are at best hypothetical and inspired by religious considerations,  I do wonder why economists have not tried to come up with more rational and game-theoretic ways of dealing with law-breakers than locking them up all together and expecting them to behave forever after the end of their term. More globally, I find it quite surprising that no one ever seems to question the very notion of sending people to jail. Indeed, it does bring any clear benefit to society as a whole. One of the usual arguments I receive in those occasions is that imprisonment keeps dangerous people away. But that seems a fairly weak notion: (i) most violent offenders are not dangerous in an absolute berserker sense but only because local circumstances made them violent at a given occurrence in space and time, (ii) those offenders are only put away for a while (in most civilised countries), (iii) they are not getting any less dangerous while in prison, and (iv) it does not apply to the vast majority of people jailed. Furthermore, from a pure offer-versus-demand perspective, this may be counterproductive: e.g., putting some thieves away in jail for a while simply gives an opportunity to other thieves to take advantage of the “thieving market”.

The Freakonomics blog has some entries on the topic—somewhat supportive of my notion that most criminals act in an overall rational way for which incentives and decentives could be considered—, but still fails to address the larger picture… I showed this post to Andrew who pointed me (of course!) to his blog, as several entries therein also consider the issue, like this one on the puzzles of criminal justice. Or prison terms for financial fraud? But I would push the argument further and call for an ultimate abolishment of the carceral system, seeking efficient and generalised alternatives to imprisonment. As detailed in this U.N. report I just came across. As I think a time will come when imprisonment will be seen as irrational as witch-burning is considered today.

The Redeemer (Jo Nesbo)

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , on April 28, 2012 by xi'an

I picked this book in Oxford two months ago with some reticence because of “The next Stieg Larsson” sticker on it… Indeed, I did not like the underlying message of the Larsson Millenium trilogy, even though I admired the efficiency of the story-telling. Now, The Redeemer is the first book by Jo Nesbo I read and I rather liked it, at least conditional on the serial killer genre. Maybe the fact that it takes place in Oslo, a city I particularly like, makes it more interesting. Maybe the convoluted psychological features of the detective Harry and of the killers are much more convincing than in Larsson‘s books.

And our prejudices solve cases. Because they are not based on lack of knowledge, but on actual facts and experience. In this room we reserve the right to discriminate against everyone, regardless of race, religion, or gender. Our defence is that it is not exclusively the weakest members of the society  who are discriminated against (…) Since we work with probabilities and limited knowledge, we cannot afford to ignore knowledge wherever we find it.” J. Nesbo, The Redeemer (p. 143)

The central character is the detective, Harry Hole, who is looking as much for his true self than for the murderer. He is fighting against alcoholism, which almost had him thrown out of the police, against religious fanaticisms, against corruption within the force, against turning sexual encounters into longer term relationships and against regrets about his separation from his girlfriend Rakel, but (minor spoiler!) falls short of winning all those battles. Other characters are also well-built, from the professional assassin to the highly various actors from the Salvation Army. And the underlying theme of young girls’ abuses make the quest for the assassin more dramatic, with the endings completely unexpected. (If somewhat unrealistic.) I also like the understated way the story unfolds, which sounds very suited to snow-encased Oslo (even though some of its harsher aspects emerge at times). I should have read the three previous novels by Jo Nesbo in the series, but The Redeemer can easily be read as a stand-alone. Not perfect, but quite enjoyable and definitely gripping.