As Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard opens, Harry Hole is living deep inside the bowels of Hong Kong and trying to avoid the gangland creditors who badly want to catch up with him. In the meantime, Harry is well on his way to committing suicide by alcohol and opium abuse. But, just in the nick of time for Harry, Norway has a new serial killer on her hands, one that will rival even Harry’s previous adversary, The Snowman, for creative killing. His old department needs Harry’s talents - and he has to be found and convinced to do battle with Norway’s latest incarnation of pure evilness.
The Leopard is a grim, disturbing book that sometimes goes over the top before Nesbo decides to dial it back to a more believable level, but the picture he paints of a worldwide underground of pure evilness is unforgettable. The uncorrected proof I read was 513 pages long, plenty of time for Nesbo to expose the underbellies of Hong Kong, Norway, and Africa, and he does so with great gusto. As the body count rises, the book’s plot becomes more and more complicated, and the investigation becomes more and more personal for Harry.
Readers unsure as to whether they are ready for the level of violence and brutality of The Leopard should read its first chapter before investing in a copy of their own. This little four-page chapter forewarns the potential reader by perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the book. In addition, the beginning of the second chapter offers insight into the mind of this particular killer when Nesbo allows him to speak in the first person:
“For my part, I believe that the ability to kill is fundamental to any healthy person. Our existence is a fight for gain, and whoever cannot kill his neighbor has no right to an existence. Killing is, after all, only hastening the inevitable. Death allows no exceptions, which is good, because life is pain and suffering. In that sense, every murder is an act of charity.”
I do have one suggestion for readers unfamiliar with Nordic proper names. The Leopard is a long, complicated novel that makes reference to dozens of character and place names. Many, if not most, North American readers will quickly become confused by the names thrown at them (they simply do not stick) – and, when those names show up later in the book, these readers will find it near impossible to place them in their proper context to what has previously occurred. I have to admit to even being confused as to the gender of some of the names I faced. My suggestion: start a simple little list or chart of character names that can be referred back to as you read the book. I do wish I had followed my own advice. Next time.
Rated at: 3.5