At the end of the seventh book in this series, The Snowman, Inspector Harry Hole was an emotional wreck. The case had taken a very heavy toll on him personally and his reaction to it all was to quit the Oslo police force and run away to Hong Kong where he lost himself in the city's notorious opium dens. But now a new serial killer may be stalking victims back in Norway and Harry is the most experienced policeman in the country in dealing with such criminals.
Harry's boss sends Kaja Solness, an attractive young female detective, to Hong Kong to track Harry down and bring him back. She does manage to find him, but Harry insists that there's no way he's going back. Then Solness drops the bomb: Harry's father is in the hospital, close to death. Harry now agrees to return, but insists that he's going back only to see his father and that he has no intention of returning to the police force.
Famous last words. Shortly after he returns to Oslo, a third victim is killed. Like the first two victims, this one is murdered in a particularly unusual and brutal way. Harry is at heart, of course, a born murder investigator. His curiosity is aroused and so he now agrees to hunt the killer. But he immediately finds himself in the middle of a turf war over who is going to be responsible for investigating homicides in Norway in the future. Will these crimes continue to be investigated locally, or will murder investigations now effectively be nationalized under the direction of a single agency?
Complicating matters is the fact that Mikael Bellman, the second in command of Kripos, the national agency involved, is a glory hound who wants all the credit for a successful investigation to accrue to himself. He's jealous of Harry and afraid that Harry might outshine him. And so, although Harry's local boss, Gunnar Hagen, desperately wants him investigating the case, Bellman bars him from the investigation.
But Harry has the scent now, and no incompetent bureaucrat is going to keep him from the trail. Harry ultimately discovers a thread that links the seemingly random victims together. In fact there is a very clever and very dangerous killer at work here, and the hunt will take Harry as far away as Africa. Harry's investigation and the turf battle with Mikael Bellman are both compelling plots that run through the book, and this winds up being one of the best entries in the series thus far. Again, it will take a very heavy personal toll on Harry, who also has to deal with the problem of his father's decline. But as hard as it might be on Harry, it's great fun for the reader. Nesbo writes beautifully; twists and turns abound, and the story is likely to keep one up very late into the night.