There have been other detectives whose heavy drinking is a problem, Rebus and Morse spring to mind, but Oslo Detective Harry Hole is a full blown alcoholic who has touched rock bottom. His career has been blighted by an unsuccessful investigation into the death of his colleague and friend Ellen Gjelten. He has split from his girlfriend Rakel, and his days in the police force are numbered.
Then during the Oslo holiday period Camilla Loen is found murdered in her flat. One of her fingers on her left hand had been cut off, and a tiny diamond shaped like a five pointed star, a pentagram, the devil's star, had been placed behind her eyelid.
Harry is asked by his long-suffering boss Bjarne Moller to work the case alongside his long-time adversary Tom Waaler. Harry believes Waaler is a corrupt cop, involved in arms smuggling and somehow responsible for the death of Ellen Gjelten.
Lisbeth Barli goes missing in broad daylight with only her severed finger found, while Barbara Svendsen is murdered in her office toilet, with a finger severed from her left hand. Now the investigators can utter the words "serial killer".
Among the interesting minor characters is the dedicated forensics officer Beate Lonn, who has had an abusive relationship with Tom Waaler. Then there is the eccentric psychologist Stale Aune who teaches the investigating team, and the reader, everything they need to know about serial killers.
But this novel relies on the very successful interplay between its two interlocking threads of the hunt for the serial killer, and the struggle between the two policemen. I identified with the flawed but caring Harry Hole, a man who feels perhaps too emotionally involved with those around him. While I have known people who I could definitely imagine as the cold, smooth, cynical, totally amoral Tom Waaler, but I won't go there at the request of my legal adviser.