The Devil's Star

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The Devil's Star
Author Jo Nesbø
Original title Marekors
Translator Don Bartlett
Country Norway (some episodes in Czech Republic)
Language Norwegian
Series Harry Hole, #5
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Harvill Secker
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 448 pp (Eng. paperback trans.)
Preceded by Nemesis
Followed by The Redeemer

The Devil's Star (Norwegian: Marekors, literally "The Nightmare Cross", 2003) is a crime novel by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø, the fifth in the Harry Hole series. An English-translated version of the book named The Devil's Star was translated by Don Bartlett.

The story moves between two parallel themes – the appearance of a new serial killer terrorizing Oslo, and Harry Hole's ongoing feud with the corrupt and utterly ruthless fellow police officer Tom Waaler, which was already a major part of the plot of the two previous books, "The Redbreast" and "Nemesis". Eventually, the two issues converge – enabling Harry to resolve both in the course of a single cataclysmic night.

Plot introduction[edit]

A young woman is murdered in her Oslo flat. One finger has been severed from her left hand, and behind her eyelid is secreted a tiny diamond in the shape of a five-pointed star – a pentagram, the devil's star.

Detective Harry Hole is assigned to the case with his long-time adversary Tom Waaler and initially wants no part in it. But Harry is already on notice to quit the force and is left with little alternative but to drag himself out of his alcoholic stupor and get to work.

A wave of similar murders is on the horizon. An emerging pattern suggests that Oslo has a serial killer on its hands, and the five-pointed devil's star seems to be the key to solving the riddle.


Pursuing his suspicions during the Nemesis investigation, police inspector Harry Hole attempts to convince the Chief Inspector that his colleague, Tom Waaler is a smuggling kingpin known as the Prince, who has been involved in smuggling weapons into Oslo, as well as the murder of a number of witnesses (including Harry's former partner) who threaten his position. Due to a lack of evidence, the response is less than positive and Harry retreats onto an alcoholic binge. His superior reluctantly sends termination of employment papers to the Chief Inspector, but Harry gets a short reprieve as the Chief is on holiday for three weeks and cannot sign them.

Meanwhile, a murder victim is discovered, dead in her shower on the fifth floor, shot in the head. Tom Waaler is appointed to lead the investigation, but Harry and his partner, Beate Lønn are attached to Waaler's team. Harry, investigating the murder scene, discovers a small, red five-pointed diamond under the eyelid of the victim and that a finger is missing from her left hand.

Another murder is presumed when the director of a musical, My Fair Lady, reports that his wife has gone missing. Her finger is later sent to the National Criminal Investigation Service; it has a ring on it with a small, red five-pointed diamond. The director, Wilhelm Barli, is most upset, especially since his wife, Lisbeth, was due to take the lead in My Fair Lady, a role he later gives to his wife's sister. A few days later a third victim is found, this time in the female toilets at a local law firm. She is found on her hands and knees, with her head also on the floor and a five-pointed red diamond on the body. Yet again a finger has been removed.

Meanwhile, Tom Waaler – who has heard about Harry's investigation of him – has offered Harry a position in his illegal dealings, especially as Harry's police career seems to be over. He informs Harry that, should he – Harry – wish to join, he will be given a specific task to prove his loyalty. Tom dangles the large financial benefits of his criminal activities as an inducement. Harry is initially confused as to why Waaler is effectively admitting his guilt, but is reminded that, as an alcoholic, Harry's evidence would not be sufficient to convict him if he went to his superiors. Harry agrees to think about the offer.

A chance sighting of a pentagram brings Harry a flash of inspiration. The five-pointed diamonds found on the victims are in a similar shape – known as a Devil's Star – and Harry remembers having seen the same symbol at the murder scenes. The further significance of the pentagram soon becomes apparent to Harry, and provides a major clue as to the next possible murder locations, which are kept under surveillance. One is in a student residence hall and the other a house on the outskirts of the city, owned by Olaug Sivertsen.

While investigating this house, Beate Lønn discovers that the likely murderer is Olaug's son, Sven. She informs Harry by phone as he and Tom Waaler are checking out the other prospective crime scene, the student residence. Harry lets the information slip to Waaler, who immediately leaves to assist Lønn. Harry, using recently installed CCTV cameras, notices another pentagram on a student's door. Eventually, the body of a fourth victim is found. Meanwhile, Tom Waaler apprehends Sven Sivertsen, although his threats to shoot him ultimately lead to the realisation by Lønn that he intended to murder Sven instead of arresting him.

Now Harry is given his initiation task by Tom Waaler: get a confession from and then kill Sven Sivertsen in custody using poison. Waaler's influence is such that he apparently can guarantee Harry will get away with this. But Harry is persuaded by Sven that he is innocent of the crimes and, Instead of killing him, secretly removes him from the custody cells and goes into hiding.

Harry is now a hunted man, his future in the police - and quite possibly his life - depending on his being able to prove Waaler's misdeeds. Sivertsen is willing to testify against Waaler, but his price is that Harry will exonerate him from the multiple murder charges he faces. Harry is faced with the daunting task of discovering and apprehending the true murderer in a single day. However, a clue is provided by a seemingly irrelevant photograph which Sivertsen shows Harry, and a very minute but precise piece of forensic evidence points to a completely unexpected perpetrator.

Leaving Sivertsen chained up, Harry goes to confront his new suspect - and encounters him in the immediate aftermath of his committing yet another murder. Harry comes very near to being killed himself - but eventually the killer commits suicide. Just as Harry feels all is over bar clearing up, his phone rings and Tom Waaler informs him that he had kidnapped Oleg, the son of Harry's girlfriend Rakel, to convince Harry to meet him and trade Oleg for Sivertsen. Waaler is aware that it is Harry whom Oleg regards as his father – rather than his biological father in Russia, from whom Rakel is long separated – and that Harry is deeply attached to the boy and would do virtually anything in order to save him.

Harry arranges a meeting in the student Hall of Residence. Using the CCTV cameras as a bargaining chip, Harry tries to convince Waaler that his position is hopeless. More and more outrageous stories are proposed by Waaler to explain how he intends to cover up what has happened, but eventually Harry manages to overpower Waaler and rescue Sven and Oleg. In the final climax of the story, Waaler ultimately loses his life. Harry, meanwhile, has worked out who the murderer is, and the case is satisfactorily concluded. Having exposed Tom Waaler and solved the case, Harry's termination of employment is rescinded and he returns to the force.

As would become clear in the next book, The Redeemer, Harry's professional success was achieved at a high personal price. Despite being deeply in love with Harry, Rakel decides to terminate their relationship; Oleg's being kidnapped by Waaler and coming very close to death led her to feel that Harry's profession – and his utter dedication to that profession – would make life with him too disruptive and dangerous. However, though Harry would become in some ways attracted to other women, Rakel would remain the great love of his life, and for her part she would also find it impossible to completely cut off contact.


The special significance of the number 5 is cleverly woven into the story at various points by the author. Examples include:

  • The number of murder victims was initially presumed to be five, although only four were actually completed (with Olaug Sivertsen spared from the last murder). However, the murderer was apprehended before the presumed scheduled murder of Sivertsen and, since the murderer actually had a grudge against Sven Sivertsen (Olaug's son) it is unclear which of them was the intended victim.
  • Five fingers on a hand – each murder victim had one of their fingers severed (starting with Marius Veland's thumb and lastly Barbara Svendsen's ring finger). Had the fifth murder been committed in the final event it would have presumably been the little finger of the left hand.
  • Each murder took place on the fifth floor of a building (the exception to this was Marius Veland, the first victim, known to have been murdered on the fourth floor where his room was located). However his body was moved by the murderer and kept hidden in the fifth floor. It should also be noted that Olaug Sivertsen's home did not have five floors.
  • Five o'clock – all the murders took place at around 5 pm. In addition, journalist Roger Gjendem was told by Harry Hole to meet him at the Underwater pub at 5 pm.
  • There were five days between each murder.
  • Each murder victim had a small, five-pointed red diamond located on the body (usually behind an eyelid) when found.
  • Barbara Svendsen's body was found in balance, supported at five points: the two feet, the knees and the forehead.
  • On one occasion Harry Hole stood by a closed counter and saw a TV around the corner; the lottery was being drawn, and the only number he had heard before Waaler began talking to him was the number 5.
  • The book consists of five parts.

Hot weather in Oslo[edit]

A persistent part of the book's background - with some implications for its main plot line - is the hot weather from which Oslo suffers throughout the book. While Norway is well known as a cold country, and not without reason, the book makes clear that Oslo in July can be quite a hot place: anybody who can escapes to the seashore, women go around in bikinis also in the city itself, people sleep naked with little or no cover, groan at forecasts of "another tropical night" and pray for rain to break the heat wave. This is in marked contrast to the next book in the series, "The Redeemer" - a winter tale taking place in a snowbound Oslo, with subzero temperatures in the night streets, when for a hunted fugitive the obtaining of a coat is literally a matter of life and death.