Books: Jo Nesbo's latest thriller is ice cold in Norway
The Son, Jo Nesbo, Harvill,Secker, pbk, £13.99, 496 pages
Myles McWeeney on the latest from Norwegian thriller writer Jo Nesbo, creator of hard-drinking Oslo cop Harry Hole, the standard bearer for the phenomenon that is Scandinavian crime fiction.
Norwegian thriller writer Jo Nesbo, creator of the iconoclastic hard-drinking Oslo cop Harry Hole, is the current standard bearer for the worldwide phenomenon that is Scandinavian crime fiction.
Standing head and shoulders above his fellow Nordic mystery writers, he has sold more than 24 million copies of his books globally (only the late Stieg Larsson of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame has sold more), and he is published in more than 40 languages.
The curious thing about Nesbo is that not only is he something of a Renaissance man – he was a Norwegian Premier League footballer, a financial analyst for a stockbroking firm, a journalist and is still the lead singer and songwriter for a chart-topping Norwegian rock band called Di dere (Them There) – it was only through an accident of chance that he fell into crime fiction.
Asked by a publisher to write a memoir of life on the road with Di derre, he submitted a manuscript called The Bat, the first Harry Hole crime novel, which he'd written as practice for the memoir. No one was more surprised than he when the publisher accepted it, and it became a huge hit.
The Harry Hole canon is now 10 strong, and Nesbo has also published a number of very successful stand-alone thrillers, one of which, Headhunters, was made into a BAFTA-nominated film. More films and TV series based on his works are in the pipeline.
The team that gave us the multi-Oscar-winning movie The Wolf of Wall Street, director Martin Scorsese and actor/producer Leonardo di Caprio, are just about to start shooting The Snowman – the seventh in the Harry Hole series – and Warner Brothers have bought the rights to two other novels written by Nesbo under the pseudonym Tom Johansen, Blood on Snow and More Blood on Snow.
He has also penned a hugely popular series of Norwegian children's books, the English translation of which is Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder.
In Harry Hole – the Norwegian pronunciation of the surname is Ho –lay – Jo Nesbo has created a richly complex, damaged yet ultimately sympathetic character.
Harry's mother was a member of the Sami people, the reindeer herders of the far north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Lapland, who died when he was in his early 20s, and he has always had a strained relationship with his ex-schoolteacher father.
A heavy smoker and an alcoholic who falls off the wagon frequently and quite spectacularly, among Hole's saving graces are an uncanny skill at pulling together the disparate threads of complex investigations, a fierce commitment to justice and huge sympathy for vulnerable people.
Not surprisingly, he has serious issues with his superiors and the more straitlaced of his colleagues, but however much they may dislike his unconventional approach to his job and his personal indiscipline, his skills and loyalty are appreciated at all levels in the police service.
Among his closest friends are former schoolmates, members of Norway's immigrant community, and ordinary blue-collar workers. In his 40s, he has never married, but has had a number of intense relationships with women which usually come under great strain due to his lifestyle.
Nesbo has shown great skill in developing his main character as the series has progressed, and events in the Oslo detective's most recent adventures, Phantom and Police, suggest the author may be leading Harry Hole towards new and uncharted territory.
Nesbo's couple of standalone novels have been equally successful in terms of rave reviews and worldwide sales. The latest is The Son, which tells the story of Sonny, a 30-year-old heroin addict who has been incarcerated in a state-of-the-art prison in Oslo since he was 18, convicted of two horrific murders.
The inmates see him as a kind of Buddah with the capacity to bestow forgiveness and absolution when they tell him their terrible secrets. In reality, the unkempt, youthful looking man, a model prisoner, is the son of a disgraced police officer who he believes committed suicide, a shocking act that turns out to have orphaned him as his mother loses her mind and life shortly afterwards.
He is a model prisoner only because corrupt jailers and police officials give him access to as much heroin as he desires in return for confessing to crimes he didn't commit in an effort to ramp up detection rate statistics.
But when Sonny learns from an inmate seeking his kind of blessing that he witnessed events that suggest that his father may, in fact, have been murdered, he makes a daring escape from prison and sets about exacting dreadful revenge on those he believes responsible for his parents' deaths, which include ruthless kingpins of the Oslo crime world and corrupt senior police officers.
Charged with finding and eliminating Sonny before the body-count rises too high is Inspector Simon Kefas, once Sonny's father's best friend. Kefas, who is struggling with a difficult home life through his beloved wife's illness, blew a fast-track career through a gambling addiction, and has serious issues relating to Sonny's past.
As Kefas tracks Sonny's unpredictable course of retaliation he finds himself increasingly shocked by how the elite have manipulated the young man and becomes strangely sympathetic to his plight. Kefas also finds himself under almost unendurable temptation to turn a blind eye to the machinations of his superiors.
Fast-paced and imaginatively violent, this latest example of Nesbo's Nordic noir hurtles like an express train towards a last act of almost operatic extravagance that leaves dead bodies and carefully nurtured reputations littering the stage. Great stuff altogether.
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