Book 8 in the Harry Hole series, which I read out of order, and have come to really like. I didn't like the initial Harry Hole book I read, which is a shame, because I now look forward to them.
So, the end of book 7 felt like a good conclusion for the Harry Hole series. He gets to live happily-ever-after, the fairy tale ending we all want (well, most of us, I guess). Thing is, said endings are rarely The End, and the shine can often wear off in the mundane. Except for when it doesn't. When you don't trust it. When you realize it can all come crashing down in a moment, because life is like that, it keeps going, it keeps changing, it keeps moving, and loss in the in the cards for everyone playing the game of life.
Also, Nesbo had a few more loose ends to wrap up, like, oh, IDK, the one who got away maybe?
Who comes back.
The story starts with a couple gruesome murders, and Harry saying, "Nope, I'm not on the force any more, I'm sober, I'm with the most amazing woman for me, I got this, go away." Except when you have a calling, you can fight it until you die, or give in and follow it.
So back in Harry goes.
When a storyline wraps up and you have another 20% of the book left, you will often realize that you're reading either George R.R. Martin or some Harry Hole book, and that what looks like a nicely wrapped gift ... isn't.
I enjoyed the book, it's worth reading. If you're a fan of Nesbo's Harry Hole books, keep reading. If you aren't yet a fan, start at book one and see if you like it before reading this one (and include the six between).
Unrelated, this was book 50 that I've read this year so far, and another square on my 2019 Goals Bingo! card. Yay!
"That was the experience they were buying when they employed her. For instance, you shouldn’t betray your ideals. Or those closest to you. Or your responsibilities and obligations. And, if you get it wrong, you apologise and try to get it right next time. It’s OK to make mistakes. But betrayal isn’t OK."
The second sort was waking up alone. That was characterised by an awareness that he was alone in bed, alone in life, alone in the world, and it could sometimes fill him with a sweet sensation of freedom, and at other times with a melancholy that could perhaps be called loneliness, but which was perhaps just a glimpse of what anyone’s life really is: a journey from the attachment of the umbilical cord to a death where we are finally separated from everything and everyone.
Happiness was like moving on thin ice, it was better to crack the ice and swim in cold water and freeze and struggle to get out than simply to wait until you plunged into it.
“Harry?” He could tell from the tone of her voice that she wasn’t going to give up.
“Don’t start with my name, please, you know it makes me nervous.”
Kinda like starting a sentence with "So....."
“OK. I suspect you of suggesting a dead woman because you assume I’ll think you’d find it less of a threat if it’s a woman I can’t spend the night with, in purely practical terms..."
“In that case, why don’t you just do it? Why not have a fling?”
“To start with, I don’t even know if my dream woman would say yes, and I’m no good at dealing with rejection. And secondly, because the bit about ‘no consequences’ doesn’t apply.”
Harry focused on the newspaper again. “You might leave me. Even if you don’t, you won’t look at me the same way anymore.”
“You could keep it secret.”
“I wouldn’t have the energy.”
“When you say you wouldn’t have the energy to keep an affair secret, do you mean ‘couldn’t keep up the pretence’?” Rakel asked.
“I mean ‘couldn’t be bothered.’ Keeping secrets is exhausting. And I’d feel guilty.” He turned the page. No more pages. “Having a guilty conscience is exhausting.”
“I feel that I’m trying to answer your questions as honestly as I can. But in order to do that, I need to think about them, and be realistic. If I were to follow my initial emotional instinct, I’d have said what I thought you wanted to hear. So here’s a warning. I’m not honest, I’m a slippery sod. My honesty now is merely a long-term investment in my own plausibility. Because there may come a day when I really need to lie, and then it might be handy if you think I’m honest.”
“Heredity. It’s like going to a fortune-teller and regretting it. As human beings, we tend not to like things we can’t avoid. Death, for instance.”
The most peculiar thing wasn’t that he’d become a teacher, but that he liked it. That he, like most people usually regarded as taciturn and introverted, felt less inhibited in front of a gathering of demanding students than when the guy at the only open checkout in the 7-Eleven put a packet of Camel Lights down on the counter and Harry thought about repeating his request for “Camels,” before noticing the restlessness of the queue behind him.
Wow, okay, this.
“Mm. Just because there are only a few of them doesn’t mean that they’re not right.”
“You yourself have said that if you can think of any form of deviancy, there’ll be someone out there who’s got it.”
“Oh yes, it’s all out there. Or will be. Our sexuality is all about what we’re capable of thinking and feeling. And that’s pretty much unlimited."
Harry remembered something he had once thought. That when he fell, when he pulled the cork from the bottle and took the first swig, it wasn’t the way he imagined, because that wasn’t the decisive moment. The decision had already been taken long before. And from that moment on, the only question was what the trigger would be. It was bound to come. At some point the bottle would be standing there in front of him. And it would have been waiting for him. And he for it. The rest was just opposite charges, magnetism, the inevitability of the laws of physics. Shit.
“Are you still dry, Harry?”
“As a Norwegian oil well, boss.”
“Hm. You do know that Norwegian oil wells aren’t dry, don’t you? They’ve just been shut down until the price of oil rises again.”
“That was the image I was trying to convey, yes.”
Hagen shook his head. “And there was me thinking that you’d get more mature with age.”
“Disappointing, isn’t it? We don’t get wiser, just older."
“Some detectives might regard it as—what’s the word I’m looking for?—challenging, to have such a big name from the past looking over their shoulder.”
“Not a problem—I always play with my cards on the table, sir.” Katrine gave a brief smile.
He turned and looked at her with one eyebrow raised. “Why do you ask that?” And she felt it now as she had back then, the way that look could hit her like an electric shock, the way he—a man who could be so reserved, so distant—could bulldoze everything else aside just by looking at you for a second, and demand—and get—all of your attention. In that one second there was only one man in the whole world.
Harry was running. Harry didn’t like running. Some people ran because they liked it. Haruki Murakami liked it. Harry liked Murakami’s books, apart from the one about running—he had given up on that one. Harry ran because he liked stopping. He liked having to run. He liked weight training: a more concrete pain that was limited by the performance of his muscles, rather than a desire to have more pain. That probably said something about the weakness of his character, his inclination to flee, to look for an end to the pain even before it had started.
“What’s your point?”
“That people are more scared than the likelihood of meeting a vampirist ought to make them. Because it’s all over the front pages of the newspapers, and because they’ve read that he drinks blood. But at the same time they light cigarettes that are pretty much certain to kill them.”
And then you had people—like Isabelle and he himself—who wanted absolutely everything: power, but without any suffocating obligations. Admiration and respect, but enough anonymity to be able to move freely. Family, to provide a stable framework and help their genes survive, but also free access to sex outside the four walls of the home. The apartment and the car. And solid shit.
Possibly because she was exhausted and nervous, possibly because the brain takes refuge in silly things when it ought to be concentrating on things that are overwhelming and terrifying.
“And you sound like you’re thinking about employing a thief.”
“I’ve never had anything against thieves with acceptable motives.”
She laughed. “In the end is somewhere between what’s dragging you down today, and the day when nothing can drag us down any more, Harry.”
Harry closed his eyes. Of course there was something to hope for, something to look forward to: the time that comes after what’s dragging you down today. The day when nothing can drag you down any more.
He sat down, took a sip of coffee. Gave her the time she needed, didn’t fill the silence with words that demanded answers.
The sender was email@example.com. No text, just an image. Presumably taken with a light-sensitive camera, seeing as she hadn’t noticed a flash. And probably a telephoto lens. In the foreground was the dog pissing on the cage, and there she was, in the middle of the cage, standing stiffly and staring like a wild animal. She’d been tricked. It wasn’t the vampirist who had called her.
“They often get angry and full of moral indignation at that age,” Steffens said. “They shift the blame for anything that goes wrong onto their father, and the man they once wanted to become suddenly represents everything they don’t want to become.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
“Of course, we do that all the time.”
“Does it end up positive?”
“The joy of saving lives minus the despair at losing people you could have saved.”
“Yes, I saw the crucifix in your office. You believe in callings.”
“I think you do too, Hole. I’ve seen you. Maybe not a calling from God, but you still feel it all the same.”
Harry looked down at his cup. Steffens was right about the coffee being intriguingly bad. “Does that mean you don’t like your job?”
“I hate my job,” the senior consultant smiled. “If it had been up to me, I’d have chosen to be a concert pianist.”
“You’re a good pianist?”
“That’s the curse, isn’t it? When you’re not good at what you love, and good at something you hate.”
Harry nodded. “That’s the curse. We do jobs where we can be useful.”
“And the lie is that there’s a reward for someone who follows a calling.”
“Perhaps sometimes the work in itself is reward enough.”
“Only for the concert pianist who loves music, or the executioner who loves blood.”
“Maybe he didn’t hate it as much as he claimed.”
“How do you mean?”
Harry shrugged. “An alcoholic hates and curses drink because it ruins his life. But at the same time it is his life.”
“There are various answers to that,” Steffens said. “And one that’s true.”
“And that is?”
“That we don’t know.”
“Like you don’t know what’s wrong with her.”
“Hm. What do you know, really?”
“If you’re asking in general terms, we know quite a lot. But if people knew how much we don’t know, they’d be scared, Harry. Needlessly scared. So we try to keep quiet about that.”
“We say we’re in the repair business, but we’re actually in the consolation business.”
“So why are you telling me this, Steffens? Why aren’t you consoling me?”
“Because I’m pretty sure you know that consolation is an illusion."
"... detective you’re also selling something more than you say you are. You give people a feeling of comforting justice, of order and security. But there’s no perfect, objective truth, and no true justice."
“Do you know what made crime rates go down in the U.S.A. in the nineties?
Because crime rates didn’t just fall in New York, but right across the U.S.A. The answer is actually the more liberal abortion laws that were introduced in the 1970s.” Steffens leaned back in his chair and paused, as if to let Harry think it through for himself. “Single, dissolute women having sex with men who vanish the next morning, or at least as soon as they realise she’s pregnant. Pregnancies like that have been a conveyor belt producing criminal offspring for centuries. Children without fathers, without boundaries, without a mother with the money to give them an education or moral backbone or to teach them the ways of the Lord. These women would happily have taken their embryonic children’s lives if they hadn’t risked being punished for it. And then, in the 1970s, they got what they wanted. The U.S.A. harvested the fruits of the holocaust that was the result of liberal abortion laws fifteen, twenty years later.”
“I suppose that’s just the way it is,” Katrine said. “We start off having everything, and then lose it, piece by piece. Strength. Youth. Future. People we like…”
And just as he felt tears welling up, they were suppressed by rage. Of course we lose them, everyone we try to hold on to, the fates disdain us, make us small, pathetic. When we cry for people we’ve lost, it’s not out of sympathy, because of course we know that they’re free from pain at last. But still we cry. We cry because we’re alone again. We cry out of self-pity.
“And then it comes back. Doesn’t it?” She laughed again. “Nothing’s forever, life is by definition temporary and always changing. It’s horrible, but that’s also what makes it bearable.”
“This too shall pass.”
“Let’s hope so."
“I don’t know. I just know that when I’m walking on the wafer-thin ice of happiness, I’m terrified, so terrified that I wish it was over, that I was already in the water.”
"Admitting that we have doubts is taken as an admission of our own inadequacy, not an indication of the complexity of the mystery or the limitations of our profession."
“I remember some advice I was given when I first started working on cases, Harry. That if you want to survive, you have to learn when to let go.”
“I’m sure that’s good advice,” Harry said, lifting his coffee cup to his lips and looking up at Hagen. “If you think survival’s so bloody important.”
“You should never underestimate the first thing you think,” Harry said. “That’s usually based on more information than you’re actually aware of. And the simplest solution is often the right one.”
“Harry doesn’t like people, you see.”
“I do like people,” Harry said. “I just don’t like being with them. Particularly not when there’s a lot of them at the same time.”
It no longer irritated Steffens that people thought that cold was a thing, and didn’t understand that it was merely the absence of heat. Cold was the natural, dominant state. Heat the exception. The way murder and cruelty were natural, logical, and mercy an anomaly, a result of the human herd’s intricate way of promoting the survival of the species.
We feel first and reason afterwards. We see a man who doesn’t intervene to rescue his wife, and we feel contempt. Then along comes what we think is cold, objective reflection, but is actually us trying to find new information to justify what we felt initially.
He had let go so many times before. Had given in to pain, fear, a death wish. But he had also given in to a primitive, egocentric survival instinct that had shouted down any longing for a painless nothingness, sleep, darkness. And that was why he was here. Still here. And this time he wasn’t letting go.