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Newest 'Harry Hole' thriller from Norwegian master Nesbo

FICTION

"The Thirst"

By Jo Nesbo, translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith

Knopf; 462 pages, $26.95.

As this newest blood-soaked outing from Norwegian crime master Jo Nesbo begins, legendary Oslo police detective Harry Hole is uncharacteristically happy: He has been married for three years to Rakel, he has quit police work for teaching at the Police College, and he's off the bottle.

But he is inexorably sucked back to the dark side when a serial killer begins targeting women who use the Tinder dating app. The first victim, a lawyer who specialized in sexual abuse cases, is found bled out in her apartment with strange puncture marks on her neck, flecks of rust and paint in the wounds.

When the amount of blood in the apartment does not match the amount she has lost, police conclude they are hunting for a "vampirist," a killer who drinks the blood of his victims.  When a second woman is murdered two days later, Harry Hole is drawn back to the hunt, haunted by the monster who eluded him in the past.

Harry Hole is a fascinating character: charismatic, brilliant, scarred both physically and psychologically by his years of obsessive pursuit of homicidal psychopaths. He's also oddly physically fit, despite years of drinking and smoking.

Harry reflects as he wakes up beside his wife one morning, painfully aware how fleeting is happiness.

Harry woke up. the echo of a dream, a scream, died away....  Seeing as everything was perfect now, any change could only be for the worse...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."  

Hunter and prey are locked in a murderous dance, as Nesbo shifts from Harry's awakening to the unnamed killer awakening, with what seems to be yet another victim in the bed beside him.

Against a vivid backdrop of neighborhoods in Oslo and its environs and the "nanny state" of Norwegian politics, Nesbo offers a rich cast of characters: Mehmet, struggling to keep his "sports bar" afloat displaying only Turkish soccer matches on a large screen; corrupt police officer Truls Berntsen who leaks secrets about the investigation for cash and lusts after his boss's wife; Mona Daa, the unprincipled journalist who lifts weights, wears Old Spice and publishes whatever tips she is given her no matter what the consequences; police chief Mikael Bellman, a cynical and corrupt manipulator who is angling for a high post in the Justice Ministry and Isabelle Skoyen, his equally cynical lover.

Then there's Hallstein Smith, a married father of four who was ridiculed by his colleagues for his theories about vampirist psychology. Then there are the supremely creepy killers, the chameleon-like "vampirist" killer and imprisoned septuagenarian Svein Finne, a serial killer known as the Fiance, in a supporting role.

Nesbo deals in terror and expertly amps up the suspense, whether it's a pair of menacing  boots appearing under a bathroom stall or a terrified civilian trying to make out a face in the steam in a Turkish bath. Nesbo is also a master of misdirection, casting suspicion in many directions, appearing to place someone in dire peril only to have someone else end up quite dead. The murders are gruesome although perhaps the most gag-worthy moment is the discovery of a blender in a victim's kitchen with remnants of a blood and lemon juice "vampire smoothie" in it.

This is Harry Hole's 11th outing, and another killer is waiting in the wings for No. 12.

Jean Westmoore is a member of The News' digital desk and Children's Book Critic

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