Entertainment Books

Friday 19 October 2018

Crime guru Nesbo dishes up cauldron of trouble in deprived Scottish city

CRIME: Macbeth, Jo Nesbo, Hogarth Shakespeare, H/B €24

MacBeth by Jo Nesbo
MacBeth by Jo Nesbo
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

'Shouldn't we ring Macbeth?" Reader, take note, if you are already a fan of Norwegian crime writer, Jo Nesbo, this 500-page tome might not take its toll on your time. If you are a fan of Shakespeare, you may wonder how you'll get through the Nordic Noir version of the Scottish murder rampage.

If you are a fan of Macbeth, well, you know that Verdi already interpreted the play as an opera and the story has had centuries of stage, and decades of film and television production. Interpretation is nothing new. Its themes and characters still resonate in the world today. But this is the first retelling in a thriller manner.

As part of the commemoration of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary in 2016, major writers were invited to interpret his plays in their personal prose style. When considering whether the 1606 play was too remote for his Norwegian crime genre, Nesbo described Macbeth as: "A thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind… A main character who has the moral code and the corrupted mind, the personal strength and the emotional weakness, the ambition and the doubts to go either way… No, it does not feel too far from home."

The original play is set in Scotland during the mid-11th Century. Most of the characters were based on real people. Duncan was king of Scotland from 1034 to 1040; Macbeth ruled 1040-1057. Malcolm, Donalbain, and Macduff were also real.

The noir novel opens poetically through the lens of a shiny raindrop, windswept through the dark sky into an abjectly deprived fictional Scottish city. It is 25 years after World War II; the miserable 70s is an ideal period to play with murder and corruption.

The language lunges from the purity of a raindrop or the swoop of a seagull through the silence and moonlight, over a river that shines like silver, and transmutes earth's nature to the dark underbelly of nature that's called human.

Macbeth is a police inspector, brought up in an orphanage, an outsider and addicted to a drug called 'brew'; he is head of the SWAT team, and determined to take down criminal gangs and clean up the corrupt government. The local police chief, Duncan, shares his goal. Drug wars abound and the local drug lord, Hecate, wants rid of the police chief, and schemes to put Macbeth in charge.

The witches of the play are replaced by three sisters, sent by Hecate, to foretell Macbeth his future fortune; that he will lead the Organised Crime Unit and become Chief Commissioner.

Chief Duncan gives Macbeth his first promotion and, guess what? Macbeth is then goaded to quickly take on the next post by his consort, the unsurprisingly calculating 'Lady', an ex-prostitute who runs a local gambling den. It is the wily woman's intention to be living with the man who rules the city. After a life of personal abuse and familiarity with killing, there is nothing stopping her.

Themes of power, political ambition, evil, guilt, paranoia, even love, are scattered throughout the saga. If the curse of Macbeth means never uttering that name in a theatre to avoid disaster, then beware the book title.

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