The Thirst, by Jo Nesbø (plus some extra food for thought on the genre)


A woman is found murdered after an internet date. The marks left on her body show the police that they are dealing with a particularly vicious killer.


Under pressure from the media to find the murderer, the force know there’s only one man for the job. But Harry Hole is reluctant to return to the place that almost took everything from him. Until he starts to suspect a connection between this killing and his one failed case.


When another victim is found, Harry realises he will need to put everything on the line if he’s to finally catch the one who got away.


And yes, ladies and gentlemen, Harry Hole is back! It feels so good to be able to say that, I think I’m going to scream. More than 4 years had passed since the release of Police (the previous book in the series) and, I have to admit, I had almost given up on Harry. Key word: almost. And yet, my favourite hero is back!

So, in anticipation of The Thirst, I decided to re-read the Harry Hole series. I’ll admit, I skipped some books that I remembered almost in perfect detail, so I ended up reading 5 or 6 of them. Nevertheless, they were enough; enough to remind me exactly why I had fallen in love with Harry, with Nesbo’s writing in the first place.

However, I have to admit; after re-reading his previous works I think I got a bit too familiar, too “sensitive” to Nesbo’s writing. Because – for the first time ever – I found out who the main suspect was almost immediately. But, like I said, perhaps I over sensitized myself, so don’t let it put you off. It’s still a great, complex book, and Harry and Rakel’s banter and love is at its peak.
Now, the book – and the overall series – had me thinking. And I realized that crime/mystery is – almost inherently – a problematic genre. And I’m not just talking about the lack of diverse representation. Most of the popular mystery/crime novels are either set in Scandinavia or the US – so they are mostly written by authors coming from the perspective areas –  so racially diverse characters have ended up being more of a welcome surprise. The problem I want to focus on is mental illness and how that is represented in the genre.
So my main issue is not the lack of mentally ill protagonists – which I will come to in a while. My main problem is how mental illness is represented in these books. How often is the killer/main suspect mentally ill? How often does schizophrenia explain his actions? How often does a traumatic experience lead to crime in these books? See where I’m getting at? Mental illness and trauma are so often used as plot points and backstories or explanations for the villains, that mentally ill people have ended up always being the villain. And not once is it mentioned that mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of ab*se, than perpetrators.
Which brings me to my second point: we are not used to having mentally ill protagonists. Which is why I find the Harry Hole series to be so important. Don’t get me wrong, I – by no means – want to say that Nesbo’s never done anything wrong. He, too, uses mentally ill villains. But here’s the catch: his protagonist is also mentally ill. Harry Hole is an alcoholic, traumatized by his mother’s death, and depressed ( I don’t remember if his depression is ever named but it’s pretty obvious). And he is not the only one. There are other characters with a mental illness and they all play a key-role in the series.

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