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A NORWEGIAN REBUS
The Snowman - Jo Nesbo
Member Name: Mauri
The Snowman - Jo Nesbo
Date: 15/05/12, updated on 15/05/12 (108 review reads)
Advantages: Great characters, great plot, atmospheric
Disadvantages: At times a rather complicated plot
Somewhat jaded and damaged veteran detective Harry Hole of the Oslo police specialises in serial killers but as people keep telling him there aren't any serial killers in Norway. Harry made his reputation hunting down a serial killer in Australia many years previously and because of this achieved a great deal of unwanted notoriety and celebrity. Unfortunately personal problems including an excessive drinking habit served to hamper his career and his credibility amongst his peers so when a number of baffling murders occur in the Oslo area nobody believes Harry when he suspects a particularly nasty and incredibly clever serial killer is at large. Assisted only by a young rookie murder detective the beautiful but enigmatic Katrine Bratt, Harry begins to investigate the murders and tries to convince his bosses a serial killer is indeed responsible and that if nothing is done even more people will die. To complicate matters Harry's personal life is chaotic as usual with the arrival on the scenes of his former girlfriend Rakel providing more problems for our hard pressed detective to solve.
As with all Scandinavian thrillers one of the main components of the story is the bleak landscape and weather. I suppose the wind, the cold, the rain and the snow play such an important part of Nordic life that all the authors from this part of the world have an aptitude for describing and including these aspects in the story. In this book even more so since the murders are intimately linked to the winter snow and the making of a series of grisly snowmen near the scene of each crime. The story seems to be played out in dimly lit interiors and cold, bleak exteriors often seeming to parallel the emotional state of the characters, many more often than not haunted by their own personal demons. In common with the other crime fiction I've read in this genre the killings are truly gruesome involving strangulation, amputation, dismemberments and torture described in graphic enough detail by Nesbo.
This is not the first of Nesbo's books featuring Oslo police detective Harry Hole it is in fact the seventh in the series, the first 'The Bat' dealing with the case in Australia that makes Hole famous. Through the series Nesbo has developed Hole's character and has played with different facets of his psychological make-up. Perhaps bordering on a cliché Hole is the classic hard-boiled cynical but not unethical cop of many detective noir novels and films that we all know too well. His hard drinking over the years got the better of him and his work doesn't allow his personal life to achieve any stability or permanence in his relationships. Fans of Ian Rankin might see shades of Rebus in this character. Like Rankin Nesbo manages to create a deeply flawed yet likeable hero. What makes Nesbo's novel so good is not simply the inclusion of Harry Hole but all the array of peripheral characters that are also well rounded and believable. Once again although not all that original the central partnership of the cynical and world weary Hole with the enthusiastic and ambitious younger detective in the form of Katrine Blatt works well within the dynamics of the story. The shambling dishevelled Hole being balanced by his beautiful younger sharply dressed sidekick Katrine but we soon discover that Harry is not the only one with a darker side to his character.
In essence 'The Snowman' is a superior police procedural with a very dark edge and plenty of unexpected twists, maybe a few too many. It is an extremely enjoyable read and even at 576 pages it is an effortless read. The plot can be a little complicated to follow switching as it does to different time periods as we gradually discover more about the killer and his motivations. Despite its complexity it never becomes unwieldy and I found it to be a real page turner. Apart from the main serial killer story Nesbo also explores other themes, relationships between fathers and their children and the unfairness of nature and genetic predetermination. The central character Harry Hole is a fascinating creation and I look forward to going back and reading some more from the series. The book seems to perfectly span the gap between intellectual literary fiction and the pulp crime fiction to produce a blend that will please both fans in both camps.
As I don't speak Norwegian so I can't say much about the original writing style but I'm guessing that the version I've read by Don Bartlett is a very good translation since the story seems to flow and read so naturally without any hint that English was not the original language.
All in all 'The Snowman' is a great crime thriller and Jo Nesbo deserves his place as one of the leading exponents of the Scandinavian crime thriller genre.
'The Snowman' by Jo Nesbo can be bought in paperback from Amazon uk for £5.19 (free delivery) or as a kindle edition £3.59 at the time of writing this review.
Summary: A first class crime thriller by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo