Detectives don’t come any tougher or more appealing than Harry Hole, cocooned in his Scandinavian angst, never parted from the heavy emotional baggage he can’t seem to check anywhere. In his latest, Phantom, Jo Nesbø brings the ex-cop back to Oslo, after three years of self-exile in Hong Kong and Shanghai, probing Harry’s troubled soul as he tries to right the wrongs that haunt him. He’s returned to rescue the adolescent son of his only true love from a murder rap. Oleg, who loved Harry as a father, has become a heroin addict and been jailed for killing his drug-dealing buddy. As Harry digs into the complex, crime-infested world Oleg fell into, he comes up against a new, super-addictive synthetic heroin controlled by a sinister Siberian-based syndicate and his old slick, corrupt nemesis high in the police hierarchy. Subplots within subplots, ingeniously fleshed-out characters and an extraordinary performance by Robin Sachs make this the best Nesbø/Hole novel yet.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
I’ve been dazzled for decades by Christopher Hitchens’ brilliant, cutting prose, by his endless, energetic delight in debating the issues he found so important and by his vitality and searing wit. So it was with some surprise that I found myself weeping as I listened to Mortality, read with perfect cadence by Simon Prebble. Hitchens, who reveled in burning the candle at both ends without more than a nasty hangover, entered “the land of malady” in 2010 when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. But he didn’t stop sending dispatches about his “year of living dyingly” until the end. There’s not a drop of self-pity in these essays, which first appeared in Vanity Fair. Hitchens suffered greatly in “tumorville,” lost his hair and his vigor, but never his acuity, his sass, his mordant sense of humor. He battled bravely and wrote bravely and never surrendered the freedom of speech he so treasured. In addition to these essays are unfinished “Fragmentary Jottings” Hitchens made in his last days, a moving foreword by Graydon Carter and an afterword by Hitchens’ wife, Carol Blue.
TOP PICK IN AUDIO
A real spy can be more intriguing than the fictional variety, and when that spy is Kim Philby—the most notorious of the notorious Cambridge Five, double agents in the British Secret Service spying for the Soviets—that intrigue grows exponentially. Robert Littell delves into Philby’s early years in his latest novel, Young Philby, conjuring him up through the eyes and observations of his friends, comrades, lovers, Soviet handlers, British colleagues (including the wonderfully outrageous Guy Burgess) and his eccentric, patrician father. And John Lee gives each character an authentic accent, German, Russian, upper-crust Brit, even Philby’s ever-present stutter, as he skillfully moves the narration along. The scene moves from London, Vienna, Berlin, Spain during the Civil War, France as the Nazis crash through the Maginot Line, to the mind-boggling, Byzantine horrors of Soviet interrogation sessions. A living, breathing Philby emerges, but his true heart, motives, treachery or abiding patriotism (a minority view) stay fascinatingly clouded by the smoke and mirrors of real-life espionage.