It seems like I've been eyeing the Harry Hole series for quite a while now, but half the time I either couldn't figure out which novel was the first one in the series, or the later part of the series would be available as part of the "Buy 2 get the 3rd free" deal but not the actual beginning. I finally let curiosity get the best of me, and picked up the first one available in English though it is the third one in the series (actually, I think the first novel is also available now, but I don't know if it's out as a paperback yet). Considering that this one has to do with World War II history, it's probably the perfect one for me to start with anyway, and I'm sure the WWII premise had a lot to do with this being the first one translated (I can just imagine the decision making process: "English speakers love WWII; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had a WWII connection; it'll totally be a moneymaker").
After Harry Hole is involved in a shooting with an American Security Service agent, Hole is promoted to inspector as part of the cover up (basically, the Americans and Norwegians agree they don't need an international incident, Hole was doing everything within regulation and since no one had alerted him of the agent's presence on the route he was guarding, he took what would have been the proper actions). As part of his promotion to inspector, he is moved from Crime Squad and his friend and partner Ellen up to POT, the Norwegian Security Service. One of the regular reports that crosses Harry's desk raises his interest, and though his boss isn't initially that impressed with its importance, Harry runs with the case - case shellings from a Marklin rifle were discovered after locals in a community heard shots, and given the type of rifle involved (only three hundred made, incredibly expensive, originally intented for elephant hunting), Harry thinks it may be something worth investigating, not believing this was just a collector playing with his new toy.
Nesbo does a great job of switching back and forth between narrators and timelines, placing part of the story at the Eastern front during World War II, following a small group of Norwegian Soldiers who have volunteered with the Germans. It's a slow building story, and this is one of the first times in a long time where I didn't feel tempted to turn to the back page and see who the killer was, letting the story develop organically instead. In ways, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the reader doesn't even completely know what the crime is going to be, just that one will occur, so not only was I waiting to see who was behind it all, I was all waiting to see what they were trying to do. There are some minor mysterious incidents during World War II but it is obvious that one of these men is connected; the question simply remains which one and how. Additionally, there are other plot lines going on that are partially related to the case which add some layers as well as setting up for later in the series, at least I assume so. Though Harry is the main character, not everything is about him and there are plenty of plot points that involve other characters that Harry never gets involved in or figures out. I actually quite liked that though he was the main character, he wasn't at the center of everything. I figured out the mystery before Harry did, but it wasn't obvious from the beginning, so I also think that was a definite point in the novel's favor.
I definitely can't wait to crack open the next one in the series, Nemesis, to see how one of the unresolved plot pieces plays out. Of course part of me also thinks I should wait and try to drag out the series. My main resolution regarding this series (and series in general) is that I can't start reading another one in the series before writing it up since series novels especially have a tendency to blur, which means as soon as I'm done with the novel I'm currently reading, I'll probably be jumping back into Harry's world.