Jo Nesbø is an international best-selling Norwegian author most well-known for action and crime thrillers. He has written 3 series altogether, including one he originally published under the pseudonym Tom Johansen. Altogether, Nesbø has sold over 55 million copies of his books worldwide and they have been translated into 50 different languages.
His most significant book series is the Harry Hole collection, which has 12 installations, all following the same police detective who has a reputation for using unconventional methods to solve crimes. As well as closely detailing his professional investigative career, these books also go into great depth about his private life, which involves a turbulent romance, an unreliable friend, and far too much alcohol.
Aside from this series, Nesbø has also released some fantastic standalone thrillers. These all vary in subject matter but all remain investigative in nature. One book even reimagines Shakespeare’s Macbeth, using the protagonist as a police inspector working as part of a SWAT team. Two of his standalone have been made into popular films, one of which has become the highest-grossing film in Norwegian history.
Alongside his array of intense and suspenseful thrillers, Nesbø has also written a hilarious children’s series, Doctor Proctor. It follows an eccentric professor who is constantly making new discoveries and inventing new, wacky things. Although these books are aimed at middle graders they have received a plethora of positive reviews from children of all ages and adults too.
If you’re keen to read any of Jo Nesbø’s work but you don’t know where to start, keep reading. This article will tell you everything you need to know about the order, themes, and characters of these brilliant books. But first, let’s take a look at the author in more detail.
There’s a reason why Jo Nesbø writes such varied books and creates such multidimensional characters – it’s because he’s also a versatile and multifaceted person!
As well as being an internationally best-selling writer, Nesbø also spends a lot of his time writing and performing music. He is the lead singer and songwriter of a popular Norwegian rock band called Di Derre.
If that wasn’t varied enough, before his literary and musical careers kicked off, he spent years working as a financial analyst and freelance journalist, having graduated from the reputable Norwegian School of Economics.
In addition, he also enjoyed a few years as a professional footballer, playing for Molde FK but was forced to focus on his other talents after suffering a knee injury. However, he has become a frequent rock climber and has taken on world-renowned climbing challenges.
So, as you can see, this author is a lot more than just a writer. Although he has become a highly successful author, he has made a name for himself in multiple other ways. He has had a multifaceted professional life and maintained various intriguing hobbies along the way. His busy, versatile lifestyle is most likely how he is able to create such vivid and complex characters.
Nesbø was born in Oslo, Norway, and although he has traveled for work, continues to reside in the city to remain close to his daughter.
Harry Hole Series
The Harry Hole series is Nesbø’s best-selling work and includes some gripping and action-packed plot lines while also maintaining a strong focus on the protagonist’s complex character development.
Harry Hole is known as an unconventional police detective, always thinking outside of the box and bending the rules to complete his investigations. Each book will jet you off to far-off destinations around the globe and is jam-packed with tension and cliffhangers that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
If you’re after a series that is equally plot and character-driven, the Harry Hole series will be a good choice. It’s made up of 12 books and the chronological order matches the publication order, so it’s an easy one to follow. Nevertheless, this article will take you through this series book by book and will include brief descriptions to help guide you through the plotline.
The Bat (1997)
The Bat introduces Harry Hole, Oslo’s most extraordinary detective. He and his squad are sent to Sydney to uncover the truth behind the chilling murder of a Norwegian woman, a minor public figure back in Norway.
Despite clear instructions, Harry delves deeper behind the scenes and personally gets involved with the lead detective and some of the witnesses. As he is dragged closer and closer to the center of the investigation, Harry discovers that this murder fits a pattern of crimes and takes him on a long journey across the country to find the psychopath responsible.
Cockroaches take Harry to Thailand and there he must investigate the murder of the Norwegian ambassador, who was found dead in a Bangkok brothel. He quickly realizes that this murder isn’t what it seems. Instead, something is lurking behind the scenes and Harry must explore the whole city in depth to find each missing jigsaw piece, before putting them together and finding the culprit.
The Redbreast (2000)
After embarrassing the whole force, Harry is given a mundane, local job monitoring neo-Nazi activities in Oslo. But this is not the boring job his superiors intended, instead, it has national importance and harks back to a dark section of Norway’s history – their collaboration with Hitler’s Germany.
The Redbreast follows Harry as he investigates the murders of old Norwegian soldiers who served under the overarching control of Nazism.
Nemesis tells the intriguing story of the investigation following a high-profile bank robbery in Oslo. After taking a woman hostage and forcing her to empty her bank account, the robber swiftly kills her and runs away.
It’s up to Harry to filter through low-quality CCTV footage and find whoever’s responsible before they strike again.
The Devil’s Star (2003)
Harry is placed on a case with a colleague who he doesn’t exactly get on with. However, the case is an intriguing one – a woman is found dead in her flat, with one finger cut off and a red star under her eyelid.
Shortly after, another woman disappears and a finger turns up with a red star ring attached. Harry thinks a serial killer may be at play here but he’s distracted by his co-worker who thinks may have been involved with a murder far closer to home. The Devil’s Star delves deeper into Harry’s character and relationships.
The Redeemer (2005)
After a singer dies in the street, Harry is sent across Oslo to find clues to discover who’s responsible. The Redeemer takes Harry all the way to Croatia tracking down an assassin who soon turns his attention to Harry.
The Snowman (2007)
The Snowman begins with a boy, searching for his mother who mysteriously disappeared leaving only a pink scarf behind. The scarf appeared alongside a random snowman that appeared out of nowhere in the yard.
Meanwhile, Harry Hole receives a letter that contains heaps of suspicious content. Harry suspects that the two are linked and soon, a pattern develops and 11 women mysteriously vanish.
The Leopard (2009)
The Leopard begins in Hong Kong, as Harry spends a large amount of time in opium dens, attempting to recover from his previous case which has left Harry in need of an escape.
Two Norwegian women turn up dead in Oslo, both of which drowned in their own blood. The killer left no clues behind and Harry seems like the only person who can solve the case.
He returns to Oslo, feeling inspired by the challenge, and shortly after he lands, the killer strikes another time. It becomes clear that Harry is now dealing with a psychopath and not only does it stir up his professional life, but it also severely affects his personal life.
After moving to Hong Kong to get out of the pressure and stress in Oslo, Harry must now deal with a new crime, one a lot closer to his heart.
Oleg was like a son to Harry and Harry spent much of his time helping to raise him. Oleg has now been arrested for murder but Harry is convinced he’s innocent.
Reluctantly returning to Oslo, Harry must track the real killer. In doing so, he gets swept up in Oslo’s drug scene and discovers that a new drug is becoming more popular.
Phantom will help readers learn more about the series’ beloved protagonist, diving into his personal history and secrets.
Although Harry has been the most reputable detective in Oslo for years. But as the menacing killer gets cleverer and even harder to reach, Harry turns his back on the case and can’t be found anywhere.
In Police, we see Harry lose his determination and momentum. Will he step up to the mark when his friends and family are swept into danger? Or is he no longer the detective that can protect himself and everyone around him?
The Thirst (2017)
A Tinder addict is the victim of a murder in The Thirst. The only clues in the case are pieces of paint and fragments of rust in her wounds. Shortly after, a very similar woman, also a Tinder user, is found in the exact same state.
The leading detective knows that only Harry Hole is suitable for the job, but because he no longer works for the force, he can’t participate in the investigation.
But these killings catch Harry’s attention and he’s convinced the police have missed key details. Will Harry go back and help? Or will he stay true to his word?
Feeling the harsh effects of a breakup, Harry must now start over and a job offer from his old police force seems like a good place to start. But he’s not been given a challenging role. Instead, he’s been thrown into the cold case office. A current case – that of a serial rapist – is the only thing on his mind, but Harry can’t afford to overstep the mark again.
Knife follows Harry as he experiences a very personal crime. He wakes up, hungover, with no recollection of any events from the previous night, and his hands are covered in blood. But it’s not his own blood. Has Harry become one of the criminals he’s spent so long searching for?
Killing Moon (2023)
The eagerly anticipated latest installment of the Harry Hole series hones in on an investigation centered around two missing girls. One is soon found dead, with an obvious clue that indicates his crimes are far from over.
Killing Moon tackles Harry’s devastating personal issues. He is now a washed-up detective with an out-of-control alcohol addiction living in sunny Los Angeles. But a woman close to his heart is put in danger and Harry swiftly hops on a plane back to Oslo.
This killer is unlike any other Harry has had to deal with and Harry is hardly in the right headspace to be investigating someone so dangerous and complex.
The Blood on Snow Series
This series was originally published under the pseudonym Tom Johansen and follows a hitman called Olav Johansen. Despite his gritty, cold-blooded exterior, Olav isn’t all that bad once you get to know him.
Blood on Snow (2015)
Set in 1970s Oslo, Blood on Snow follows Olav, who works as a ‘fixer’ for one of Oslo’s top crime bosses. He’s isolated and lonely, but he’s just met the perfect woman.
But love is never that easy is it? She’s his boss’s wife and Olav has just been hired to assassinate her. What could possibly go wrong?
This one focuses on the criminal instead of the criminal catcher – it’s a gripping story that feels more scandalous than the Harry Hole books, so it’s perfect for any gossip lover!
Midnight Sun (2015)
Ulf was once the man Olav now is. He used to be a ‘fixer’ working for a high-profile boss but after getting betrayed his boss soon turned on him and now Ulf is the one running from assassination.
Knowing the trade, Ulf immerses himself in rural life, living far away from Oslo, or anything else for that matter. A mother and son soon befriend him and Ulf starts to feel something that has been missing from his life – humanity, friendship, and hope.
Midnight Sun is still nail-bitingly tense like Nesbø’s other books, but this one delves deeper into the emotional and psychological elements of one of Nesbø’s deadliest characters.
Aside from both of his captivating series, Nesbø has produced some fantastic standalone books. These books all have completely different stories and therefore do not follow an order. Instead, they are laid out in publication order.
The Headhunters (2008)
Having been described as Tarantino-esque, you’re right to have your sights set high for this one. The Headhunters is one of Nesbø’s best-selling novels and follows Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter, the best in the business.
But he wants to earn more money, in fact, he needs to earn more money to support his life of luxury and his wife’s budding art career. By chance, he happens upon Clas Greve at an art show, who mentions that he owns a famous painting that has been missing since World War II. Desperate, Roger breaks into Greve’s apartment, but what he finds sends him down a dangerous spiral.
The Son (2014)
Sonny Loftthus is innocent. Regardless of the accusations and the sentence. He has served time in prison for nearly half of his life with an endless supply of heroin used as a barter.
Sonny’s father was a corrupt police officer who killed himself in an attempt to escape exposure. Sonny’s life is controlled and manipulated by corrupt police officers, prison officers, and lawyers who are all set on keeping him jailed and high.
After a secret is revealed about his father’s death, Sonny is determined to escape and track down the people responsible for his downfall. But can he outrun those chasing him? Or will he land himself a further sentence?
The Son is one of Nesbø’s best-rated books and the story will soon be made into a film.
Think you know the Shakespearean story? A Scottish king, a manipulative wife, and three witches? Think again. This adaptation is far more sinister and centers around the drug trade.
Nesbø’s Macbeth closely follows Duncan, the idealistic chief of police. His citizens praise him, criminals fear him – he couldn’t be doing the job better.
But Duncan might be running into some trouble here. The drug trade is more intense than it’s ever been and is governed by two drug lords, one of which is Hecate, a dangerous, powerful man known for his manipulation.
Investigating a man with powerful friends is dangerous, especially when he’s plotting against you.
The Kingdom (2020)
Roy and Carl are brothers who grew up in the same town and experienced a troubled childhood with only each other to lean on. While Roy dealt with his issues and is now happy in the mountainous town, Carl was eager to escape his past and everything that reminded him of it.
But when Carl comes back with a mysterious wife in tow and a suspicious business deal, Roy knows something’s up. As tensions rise and history resurfaces, bodies are found and the deaths that haunt this town are again put under the microscope.
Roy and Carl must stick together if they have any chance of surviving the scrutiny, but Carl’s wife might just get in the way.
The Kingdom is a story of manipulation, murder, secrecy, and scandal – it blends a bit of everything. It’s simultaneously chilling and scandalous, ideal for a reader who is not sure what they’re looking for.
The Jealousy Man and Other Stories (2021)
The Jealousy Man and Other Stories is a short story collection that concentrates on one detective who has been accused of murdering his twin. This character is a clever blend of Nesbø’s widely explored law enforcers and criminals.
A pandemic, a father grappling with revenge, a scandalous romance between strangers, mind games, and a battle of survival are the basics of what’s included in this multidimensional collection.
As always, Nesbø delivers outstanding stories with unpredictable twists, atmospheric settings, spine-tingling subplots, and complex characters in these brilliantly written texts.
Doctor Proctor Series
If you’re not looking for something suspenseful or thrilling, why not try out these brilliant books?
These are super fun stories that will have kids rolling around with laughter. They’re silly and scientific, and include endearing and eccentric main characters – you definitely won’t get bored with these!
- Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder (2007)
- Bubble in the Bathtub (2008)
- Who Cut the Cheese? (2010)
- The Magical Fruit (2012)
- Silent (But Deadly) Night (2017)
Jo Nesbø’s books will be perfect if you love suspenseful crime thrillers with captivating characters. Nesbø’s work is multidimensional and filled to the brim with nail-biting tension and they’re guaranteed to keep you entertained until the very end.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Jo Nesbø speak fluent English?
Although his work is originally written in Norwegian, Nesbø is in fact, entirely fluent in English.
How do you pronounce Harry Hole?
Many people get this wrong, so don’t be embarrassed if you fell for the spelling too. Despite common opinion, Harry Hole’s last name is pronounced: “hoo-leh”.
Is The Son being made into a film?
It has been widely reported that Nesbø’s thriller The Son is being made into a HBO series, not a film, despite original claims. Jake Gyllenhaal and Denis Villeneuve are rumored to be involved.
Is there another Harry Hole book coming out?
Killing Moon is the 13th book in this series and it is expected in May 2023.
How did Nesbø write the first Harry Hole book?
According to his website, Nesbø was originally asked to write a memoir about touring with his band but instead, he came up with the plot for The Bat.