Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Long Con Week 21 - The Redbreast

Like many of you out there, with the last episode of Lost airing, it was easy for me to feel like a significant part of my life was over.  I wasn't directly involved in the show, so literally, nothing was over except the experience of watching a new episode every so often.  Not Earth shattering, but still, I felt a little hollow once I knew it was over.  The show taught me more about narrative than anything else I've ever read or watched.  Flashbacks, flashforwards, flashsideways, all tools which gave us deeper understanding of character motivation and in most cases, propelled the "current" storyline forward.  Far too often flashbacks are used as a crutch, something to prop up motivations, or rationalize behavior.  Because of Lost, every story which uses a flashback better be doing it for the right reasons, and do it well, or I'm going to be extra hard on it.

It's quite by accident, or is it?, that the book I just put down, The Redbreast, starts in 1999 then almost immediately goes back to 1944.  Can I escape flashbacks, or is it all a part of Jacob's plan to make me a better reader? 

Detective Harry Hole embarrassed the force, and for his sins he's been reassigned to mundane surveillance tasks.  But while monitoring neo-Nazi activities in Oslo, Hole is inadvertently drawn into a mystery with deep roots in Norway's dark past -- when members of the nation's government willingly collaborated with Nazi Germany.  More than sixty years later, this black mark won't wash away, and disgraced old soldiers who once survived a brutal Russian winter are being murdered, one by one.  Now, with only a stained and guilty conscience to guide him, an angry, alcoholic, error-prone policeman must make his way safely past the traps and mirrors of a twisted criminal mind.  For a hideous conspiracy is rapidly taking shape around Hole -- and Norway's darkest hour may still be to come.

The Redbreast starts off slowly, allowing the story to unwind at a meticulous place.  I use that particular term because as the story progresses, it's easy to see that everything placed in earlier, especially flashback chapters, was placed there for a reason.  Characters are introduced, and it takes many many pages to see how or why they might be eventually important to the "present day" story.  There are lots of secrets to be discovered, and connections between the characters that even they are unaware exist.  Once the story kicks into gear, with the surprising death of an important character, most of the flashbacks disappear, and we are thrust into a mystery that needs immediate solving, before more people end up on the coronor's table.

As a mystery, its top notch.  A history lesson in post-war Norway, excellent.  As a study in revenge, its brilliant. Should I ever stop this crusade of trying to read a new damn book every week, The Redbreast will be at the top of my re-read pile.  But before that, I'll probably read Nesbo's newest Harry Hole (and it's hard to get past that name!) novel, Nemesis.

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