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Jo-Jo’s book report: Jo Nesbro’s “The Redeemer,” with various digressions.

August 15, 2014

I just finished Nesbro’s “The Redeemer.” It deals with events that take place before those in “The Snowman,” the previous book of his that I read. It features, as do all the novels in this series, the screwed up alcoholic Norwegian police detective, Harry Hole (pronounced Ho – Lay).

I identify with Harry because he is fucked-up, capable of turning every success into life-altering self-destruction, and a confirmed obsessive-depressive who cannot maintain a relationship. He also has undertaken the hopeless task of raising someone else’s son and massively failing at it.

In this novel Nesbro does an interesting thing. He uses changes in points of view to provide the “red herrings” and diversions that appear in most modern mystery novels. In effect he relies on the readers tendency to assume that where there is no obvious indication that there has been a change in the point of view within scene, they are experienced by a single actor.

We learn in the novel that the Salvation Army, those uniformed, buttoned up, music playing, individuals who come out at Christmastime and stand beside a hanging iron stew pot ringing a bell, are in reality at times sex-crazed perverts and serial killers. They also hold summer camps where the adolescent future officers in the Army gleefully rape one another in preparation for the inevitable competition they will experience in their efforts to gain power within the organization.

Now, I was sent to summer camp for several years during my early adolescence and the most sex I ever experienced was a brief kiss (my first) with a blond-haired girl from the girls’ camp on our the way back from watching the lights of the Village of Ossining dim as the town’s electricity was briefly diverted to Sing Sing prison’s electric chair during that evening’s execution. The only other sex I recall was standing around the campfire with the other boys jerking off into the fire. I assume they did not do this at the Salvation Army camp (or Christian camps in general) because of the number of potential Christian souls that would have gone up in smoke. That always struck me as highly inefficient. If all we do is wade through life so that God and Satan can divvy up the souls at the end with more than half those souls thrown into the fire anyway, why waste the time and effort, especially if it is all predestined? I guess you can say we wee lads at my camp were up to God’s work around those campfires.

Perhaps the primary difference between the camp in the book and my summer camp experiences was that the former was a Christian religious camp directed to saving the souls of the committed while mine was diverted to saving the disadvantage from something even less comprehensible. For example, my camp contained young people dragged out of the slums and ghettos in the area in the belief that exiling us for two weeks in a somewhat remote sylvan setting would save us from a life of crime, alcoholism and self-abuse. Actually, none of us really understood the forest setting business since we were housed in army tents set up on dirt clearings and never ventured into the surrounding woods for fear of poisonous snakes, giant flesh-eating raccoons and The Croton Creeper who our camp counselors assured us at night crept through the forests by the camp looking for little boys to devour.

I do not recall any rapes or violence like those that occurred at the Salvation Army camp in Nesbro’s book. Unless of course, one considers the violence dished out by one counselor or another who now and then for some reason no one could understand would become overcome with rage and beat the shit out of some luckless camper. One of the first things we learned upon arriving at camp was who were the counselors most likely to exhibit this brand of craziness and how best to avoid them. If one could not avoid them, then it was best to scrupulously follow whatever direction they gave you, even if it ment jumping off the bridge into the stream were the Creeper lived. This reign of terror we later learned supposedly taught us discipline.

There were several classes of boys at the camps. There were those I called the heroes. They were usually larger more athletic boys so comfortable with their own vanity that they rarely troubled anyone. They were immune from threat by the bullies. The counselors liked them also.

There were of course the bullies who preyed on most of the rest of us. It would not be summer camp if there were not a lot of them around.

Among the rest of us, the real or potential victims of the bullies, there were those boys who were socially mature and aware enough to be able to divert the bullies attentions on to others not so accomplished. Eventually, I learned that this group usually became those who later in life were considered by many to be successful.

Obviously there was also the prey themselves. These were the repeated victims of the bullies. Without them no summer camp would be complete because then there would be no bullies. The prey was usually small or fat and cried a lot and sometimes wet the bed giving the bullies one more reason to humiliate them. They often became scientists or suicides when they grew up.

And finally there were those too socially inept to divert the bully’s attention but who out of fear or some other character defect fought back. Individuals in this group were not liked by anyone, had few friends and were considered troublemakers. About the only thing this last group got out of the camping experience was the knowledge that if for some reason they chose to protect a victim from a bully, they were assured neither the victim nor the bully found their interference welcome. Many of this last group eventually became drug addicts, alcoholics and/or manic-depressive.

Note: Nesbro mentions Bangkok several time as the refuge of the parents of two of the protagonists who fled there after abandoning their positions in the Salvation Army. Nesbro is a regular visitor to Thailand and frequents the petite Bloomsbury of ex-pat mystery writers (Steven Leather, Chris Moore, John Burdett, Colin Piperrel and others) who frequently meet in assorted dives off Sukhumvit. I suspect future novels to focus more on Thailand and the Far-East.

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