IT’S A cold Christmas in Oslo.

A group of shoppers has gathered to listen to a Salvation Army band street concert when an explosion cuts through the music and one of the uniformed men drops to the ground, shot dead at point-blank range.

This murder is new territory for canny Norwegian copper Harry Hole (pronounced Hurler). He and his colleagues have nothing to work with: no weapon, no suspect and no motive.

Then it becomes apparent that the victim was, in fact, the wrong man and dogged detective work soon has the team in a state of grim anticipation with the suspected killer in their sights. They have details of his credit cards, his passport, even an inkling as to who is paying him to do his murderous work.

But breathing down the neck of the assassin has a lethal effect that Harry Hole hasn’t foreseen: the hit man, driven to desperation, becomes even more dangerous. He has nowhere to stay in a freezing Oslo and only six bullets left. The clock is ticking…

In person, Scandinavian crime maestro Jo Nesbø possesses a dry, rather British humour and fierce intelligence – the qualities of his detective, in fact. Previous books such as The Redbreast are more quirky and individual than those of most of his Scandinavian contemporaries and in this new book the characters of Harry and his team are developed skilfully.

This cocktail of urban decay, religion and gruesome violence is a blistering mix, with Harry chasing his prey from the former Yugoslavia through the desperate, squalid territory of the underclasses.

The Redeemer of the title may bring salvation – or death. Nesbø is a successful musician (his band’s second album was Norway’s bestselling for several years) but on a 30-hour flight to Sydney he began to write about detective Harry Hole.

Aware that this might be seen as “another crap book by a pop star”, he sent it to a publisher pseudonymously. Since then, of course, he has bagged several prestigious prizes.

The Devil’s Star was the novel that introduced Harry Hole to English speakers and readers have warmed to the detective. The Redeemer, with its adroitly orchestrated, ever-mounting tension, is quite as grittily impressive as its predecessors.

Harvill Secker, £12.99

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