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Review: Crime: Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo is best known as the Norwegian Stieg Larsson. The author of seven so-violent-you-shouldn't-read-them-before-dinner crime novels featuring the failed detective Harry Hole ('troubled' is not the word) is fast on his way to becoming a household name.

Now, it seems the appetite for Nesbo's fiction is growing as his back catalogue is being translated into English, beginning with this latest, Headhunters.

This book was first published in 2008 and won the Norwegian Book Prize for Best Novel Of The Year. It runs with the faintly ridiculous tagline on the cover 'Soon to be a major motion picture' in reference to the slick adaptation, which could be seen as counting your chickens. Needless to say, I was looking forward to it.

From its verging-on-the-dull first page, Headhunters rapidly turns into a gripping read with strangely authentic characters, who are as dislikeable as they are loveable.

Roger Brown is the headhunter of the title, married to the modelesque Diana and eternally grateful to her for choosing him as he knows he is punching above his weight.

He is the best headhunter in the business and sets out to recruit Clas Greve for his biggest client. Roger is also an international art thief and has just discovered that Greve owns a lost Ruben.

Roger knows it's risky but this painting could put an end to his art theft days and make him financially secure enough to give Diana what she really wants -- a child.

As the book unravels we discover all sorts of betrayals and as the risks get bigger, Roger's precarious world begins to fall apart in spectacular fashion.

This could have gone disastrously wrong as it is essentially a cheesy tale of rich people with fabulous lives.

But, somehow, Nesbo made these characters real, troubled and emotionally engaging. And, what's more, this book is a million miles away from his serial character, Harry Hole.

Don't be fooled though, there is plenty of violence and action here too. Nesbo just takes his time, lulling us into a sense of false security before bringing the whole delicate chandelier crashing down.

Technically, the novel works brilliantly.

Apart from a jarringly dull opening page, I got lost in this book and hours skipped by as the chapters got shorter, more tense and the pace quickened to an almost unbearable crescendo.

This book opens Nesbo to an even bigger readership than before, encompassing both popular crime and women's fiction (think Nesbo crossed with Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper and you'll have the idea).

I knew where this book was going from early enough but, in the same way one might know where an experienced lover is going, it in no way diminishes the reader's enjoyment. A thoroughly satisfying read.

Edel Coffey

Indo Review