In previous books, Hole spent his time fighting to save the police bureaucracy from itself, even as he raced around the city trying to track down diabolical killers before they struck again. By the time “Phantom" begins, Hole has retired from the Oslo police department and moved to Hong Kong to tryy to sober up.
But of course, he comes back. Oleg, the son of his one true love — a woman, it goes without saying, that Hole has left because of his own demons — is in jail for murder. Hole wants to find out whether the boy really did it, and whether there is more to the story.
Because he is Harry Hole, he turns up in a linen suit and goes straight to a seedy hotel in a rundown part of town, where his interaction with the desk clerk is part comedy, part existential crisis.
Asked to fill in his date of birth on a registration form, Hole muses: “He had always liked fixed routines, discipline, order. So why had his life been chaos instead, such self-destruction and a series of broken relationships between dark periods of intoxication? The blank boxes looked up at him questioningly, but they were too small for the answers they required."
There are some readers who will feel such prose itself amounts to a petty crime. But even many of them will be helpless in the face of Nesbo’s brilliant, breakneck plotting.
No matter how desperate things get, there is always also time for a little romance. At one point, following a knife fight as various pursuers close around him, Hole closes his own neck wound with duct tape and then heads off to a fancy hotel for a rendezvous with a doomed love.