The Leopard (Norway)

by Jo Nesbo

Wine & Olives Rating: 00000 kalamatas

Leopards: None in this book. However, there are: Avalanches; men named Odd, Ole, and Bjorn; Sami knives, and policewomen in white sweators. There is night skiing in the Alps plus an imprisoned serial killer called The Snowman. But no Ludefisk. Perhaps they fed it to the leopard and it expired on the spot. From the smell. (The real title of the book, in Norwegian, is Panserhjerte, which means The Armoured Heart, which Harry Hole wishes he has. Makes more sense.)

e. e. cummings paraphrase: Oh, to be in Norway, now that crime is here!

Summary: After the avalanche of Swedish crime novels triggered by the dynamite Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, I read a lot of Swedish mysteries, most notably those of Henning Mankell. Having also read the fantastic Smilla’s Sense of Snow by a Danish author, I was curious about the Norwegian crime genre.

Best Things: This 680+ page book feels wonderful in your hands. It’s heavy in that promising paperback way…utterly delicious. I enjoyed the constant infighting between the two Oslo crime agencies Kripos and Crime Squad. The characters were well drawn and believably flawed. Hero Harry Hole has a little problem with heroin/opium since the Snowman’s attack on his live-in girlfriend and her son. Kripos Chief Mikael Bellman has a sordid past, and is terrified of being punched in the face. Yet they soldier on somehow, taking down the bad guys.

Super Best Things: I was just sure, 3-4 times during the book, that I knew who the killer was. Wrong every time. That was awesome. This is possibly the best plotting I have ever read in my life.

Super Best Things For the Linguistically Inclined: I loved when the characters would comment about the other’s dialects…Eastern Norway/Finland…Northern Norway…with all the intellectual and character aspersions such judgement implies. I’m not saying that’s how life should be–but rather that since that’s how it is, it’s interesting.  (Side note: When I was researching Edwidge Danticat, Wikipedia told me that during one massacre in Haiti, whether you lived or died depended on the way you pronounced the word “parsley”.) Toward the end, policewoman Kaja figures out that a message claiming to be from Harry is not from Harry–because the endings used in the message are not the way he speaks.

It was interesting to me that the endings for “street” in Norwegian are similiar to, but different than, Swedish. Gata and gatan sort of thing.

References: The book referred to some Norwegians that I knew–one being polar explorer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1922) Fridtjof Nansen.

During WWII, the bravery of Nansen’s son, Odd Nansen, on behalf of the Nowegian Resistance, landed him at Sachsenhausen. While there, he befriended a little Jewish boy called Thomas. After the war, when things were still very difficult for Jewish orphans in Germany, Nansen sent him several care packages of food from Norway, which helped him survive, and invited him to visit his family. The little boy grew up to be an international judge at The Hague. I read the book Thomas Buergenthal wrote: A Lucky Child, but I can’t read Nansen’s book Tommy because it isn’t available in English or in German. Odd Nansen, by the way, founded UNICEF.

Final Linguistic Note: Yes I know I can’t spell Norwegian.

THANKS TO: My friend the baristo at The Book Parlor/Indaba Coffee in West Central Spokane for loaning me this book when he heard about my project!

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