Phantom (2012) is the ninth  book in the Harry Hole series. Don Bartlett returns as translator and delivers a most excellent read. When the last page was finished, the only thing I could say was: bravo and what a solid story. This is Jo Nesbø in top form. He still hasn’t beat out The Redeemer for me yet but Phantom sure comes close.
The European drug scene is the central theme in this novel. A new drug hits the streets of Oslo. An undercover cop’s body washes up by the Opera House. A pilot for one of the largest airlines in Scandinavia is smuggling drugs.
Harry Hole is an ex-police officer returning to Oslo after three years abroad. What brings him back is a narco murder case: a junkie shot dead by another junkie.
The author paints a gritty picture of the drug scene and we see its social impact. The rise of heroin use and OD’s is crippling the capital. There’s a new player who goes by “old boy” or “Dubai” who enters into the crowded drug market. Dubai is described as a phantom because he’s an unknown drug lord pushing heroin and the new synthetic drug, violin, on the streets of Oslo. Very few people know who he is or where he lives. Those who seek him out usually end up dead.
Phantom is composed of several strong threads. By story’s end, the author purposely lets a few strings dangle. There is a lot of foreshadowing in here. The story is told through two viewpoints. One is led by the victim, Gusto Hanssen, whose first person pov provides insights/flashbacks into what led up to his death which is told alongside present day events in third person. At first I was dismayed at this plot device but it grew on me and blended in well with the other threads in the story.
Most of the major players are back like Beate Lønn in forensics and the former head of Kripos now working for Crime Squad, Mikael Bellman. He’s over Orgkrim now, a new agency that’s over narcotics and other drug-related crimes. Mikael is being credited with cleaning up the streets of Oslo and bringing down the crime rate.
The ideas in the story are not new and Nesbø revisits one theme we are familiar with: corruption and in two institutions: the government and the police department with the interplay between them both. Nesbø is excellent at atmosphere, characterization and throwing out red herrings. The way he cuts his scenes just when the suspense is unbearable is awesome. The action isn’t bad either and the twists had me completely surprised.
As for the characters, Mikael Bellman intrigues me and his character is fleshed out more in here. He makes for a good adversary and we haven’t had a good one since The Devil’s Star. Besides, Mikael’s an ambitious man looking to climb the ladder of success at Police HQ even if it means taking a pay cut. And to paraphrase Harry: the real world is driven by two types of people. Those who want power and those who want money.
Nesbø is a musician and he always likes to mention music titles in his books to provide the soundtrack for the story. Just for fun I thought I’d bookmark a few. Songs that were mentioned included Nirvana’s Come As You Are, Frank Sinatra’s “I got Plenty of Nothing” and Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me” which provided the backdrop for Harry at his lowest point, battling his Achilles heel: alcohol.
There’s also a bit of history on drug terminology: the history behind the word “junkie” and how heroin got its name. Nesbø introduces another original concept about a method called Zjuk (the Beetle). Russians use this on informers. Grisly. I had a bit of a chuckle to see him mention David Simon’s The Wire in here. Nesbo keeps up with pop culture very well.
Over the course of the series, Harry Hole has transformed himself into a superhero who manages to get out of the most treacherous and dangerous situations imaginable. But that’s okay. I like that he is over the top and the one cop who stands out from the rest because he’s trained with the FBI and he’s able to catch the bad guys, even the ones who don’t want to be found.
All in all, Phantom was an excellent read. Was surprised at how emotional it was, too. The title of the book held many meanings throughout the story. I still think the endings of his books are a bit long-winded. Speaking of the ending, people have turned to Google for the meaning of it. Don’t look here as I am in the dark with the rest of you. I have some ideas though. My grade for Phantom is an A. Looking forward to the next book.
Source: this ebook was gifted to me
Notable reviews: Maxine at Petrona, Sarah at Crimepieces and Jose at The Game’s Afoot and a dozen others out there. I only looked at results from the first two pages on Google and a lot of you enjoyed this book, too. Good deal.