Book Reviews: Mike Ripley's Crime File
Harry Hole sounds as if he could be a character in an old episode of Minder but in fact he is the Norwegian detective hero of a cracking good thriller called The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo (Harvill, pounds 11.99).
European crime novels in translation are all the rage at the moment and have a certain amount of snobbery attached to them, in that if it's translated it must be good. This is just not true' some recent ones have been absolute clunkers.
The Redbreast, though, is the genuine article. A fast-paced police hunt for a potential assassin, whose identity and target are both unknown quantities, conducted with dogged determination by the very human Inspector Hole, recently promoted to the Norwegian Security Service, the book becomes a real page-turner.
The novel also says a lot of uncomfortable things about right-wing politics in modern Norway as well as detailing the extent of Norwegian collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War. Yet it is the character of Harry Hole (and his sadly doomed partner) which is the strength of the book. Here is a real police hero.
To use the word "epic" in the context of a crime novel is usually asking for trouble, but few would question it being applied to Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games (Faber, pounds 16.99) which clocks up 900 pages and weighs in at nearly three pounds.
Epic it is, though, in scale and scope and in the quality of the writing, which is superb, from the moment Inspector Sartaj Singh makes contact with gangster Ganesh Gaitonde on the day of his death.
Sartaj is the only Sikh inspector on the Mumbai police force and through him we not only get the gangster's story in flashback, but also a vivid picture of a teeming city where "the morgue is too small" and absolutely everybody is corrupt.
Sacred Games is a stunning novel and one of the best crime novels of the year, with Sartaj a wonderfully sympathetic hero whose philosophy is that the police are good men who have to be bad in order to keep the worst men under control. …