Friday, July 30, 2010

jo nesbø, the snowman

One of the lesser known problems that arose from the eruption of the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland earlier this year was the release delays for some books. Why they reported on the disruption of thousands of commuters in some little place called Europe instead I’ll never know. Front page news should have been: TRAGEDY! NEW SCANDINAVIAN CRIME BOOK DELAYED SLIGHTLY BY STORMS! Maybe the media was just being smart; there could have been riots.

Sure, I’m kidding, but enough people were hanging on for Jo Nesbø’s latest that a not insignificant unrest could have occurred. These Nordic thrillers, they’re capturing the hearts of everyone, myself included. From Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels to authors Henning Mankell, Camilla Lackberg and Jo Nesbø, the world can’t get enough of these dramatic and chilly tales. Blood dripping bright red against the snow. Bodies found frozen under ice, their faces contorted into expressions of horror. And in The Snowman, ominous snowmen built outside the homes of victims, draped in their scarves.

I loved The Snowman; this is the first book I’ve read by Nesbø and I now want desperately to read more. Inspector Harry Hole (I would be interested to know the correct pronunciation as I just read it in my Australian brain accent) is the hero of the book, a man with a drinking problem and a troubled past yet beyond the cliché that appears as and into reality. He has been put on the case of what could possibly be Norway’s first serial killer, someone who abducts women and then kills them in spectacularly bloodthirsty fashion. What these women have in common—if, in fact, they do—is what Hole aims to find out, along with who the killer is, and why Harry is beginning to feel he’s being followed.

He juggles his case along with his other problems: the cynicism of the men in charge who don’t particularly like him; his ex-girlfriend, the affable Rakel; Oleg, Rakel’s son, who by mutual agreement still hangs out with Harry; a new co-worker, the smart and tough Katrine Bratt who surprises at every turn. The character depth is wonderful, with involving snippets from just about everyone, even those just passing through, so that everyone feels beautifully fleshed out and you feel utterly invested in the story. The Snowman is full of red herrings and surprises, and just enough blood and gore to make it a thrilling crime novel without causing you throw up the two-minute noodles you ate for lunch.

It does suffer from a very twee and annoying literary quirk that I can’t say for sure is Nesbø or the translator’s work: it will repeat the last line of a section as the first sentence of the new section.

...He had come all the way back here and slaughtered a chicken. But why? A kind of voodoo ritual? A sudden inspirations? Rubbish, this killing machine stuck to the plan, followed the pattern.
There was a reason.
‘Why?’ Katrine asked.

Why? I also ask. This is amusing in small doses, but happens so often it become very forced and tiring, especially when the rest of the writing is just heavenly. The Snowman is the kind of book that reminds me why I adore crime—because I love to be surprised, I love to give little gasps of shock when I find out who the killer is, or what the connection is. I love it when they are set in a place I am unlikely to go and that is very cold and striking and where the women are less likely to be assessed on their dress because everyone is wearing heavy overcoats and mittens and their breath comes out in fog when they speak. And so on. I’ve never actually been to the snow so there is a chance I’ve romanticised it in my mind.

Apart from two loose ends that I found a bit frustrating, one of which may be saved for the sequel (and oh how I am waiting for the sequel, The Leopard, to get released here), The Snowman manages to be a book I seem to spend a lot of time complaining about but that I enjoyed so much it has revitalised an entire genre for me. If any more volcanoes erupt and spoil my reading fun, I’ll be right there with my “JUST SAY NO TO EYJAFJALLAJÖKULL” placard.

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