Due to the events of The Snowman, Harry Hole has had a hard time coping with his current circumstances, and has left Norway for Hong Kong where he is smoking opium and hiding from a gambling debt. He attempted to resign from the police force, but his boss put him on leave status instead. After two gruesome, inexplicable murders occur, Kaja is sent to Hong Kong to get Harry back to help solve the case since they may be dealing with another serial killer. Relunctantly, Harry comes along, and finds himself caught up in the middle of departmental politics in the police force as two different departments (Kripos and Crime Squad) are engaging in a turf war, and this case may be a factor in the decision.
The mystery itself has its usual stops and gos, twists and red herrings, as can be expected from a Hole novel. It's funny that I have no problems suspending disbelief when Harry, an alcoholic, gets away with drinking binges and other misbehavior at work, but I always raise an eyebrow when they travel to other countries to follow up on leads - "that's really in your budget?" This time around, the case leads Harry to a possible connection with Rwanda and the Congo. I was also surprised that quite a few of the other police officers in this novel have an issue with Hole due to an incident involving a dirty cop in an earlier novel. In addition to the politics and the crime investigation, the other subplot in this novel relates to Harry's relationship with his dying father who is in the hospital.
As much as I like these novels and the mysteries, I am not sure anymore how I feel about Harry at this point. This is the fifth novel I've read and the eighth in the series, and Harry just keeps getting more and more screwed up. I have no problems with a flawed hero, but it's just so different from what I feel like is the more normal narrative projectory, where the hero eventually figures his life out and redeems himself and makes all those sacrifices and allowances from other people mean something. The thing with Harry, though, is that while he is a brilliant detective, he cannot dig himself out from his hole, and just keeps going deeper. It's a very different narrative choice since as a reader I want to see things get better for Harry, not worse. And while the last five novels have shown some of his triumphs and struggles over the past few years and cases, I'm still not completely sure I understand why Harry acts the way he does or what drives him beyond his need for justice. Why does he constantly mess things up with Rakel and his friends? At this point, it's hard to feel anything but frustration with the character and his decision making process.