Tuesday 31 May 2011

Jo Nesbo Reviewed

Let's settle one thing quickly: The next Stieg Larsson? No! Lazy journalism from hacks who couldn't find Norway on a map.

Both write crime fiction: one writes police procedurals, the other writes from the point of view of a journalist and a grossly-abused near-autistic hacker. They do have snow in common but that's not much of a determinant of style or content.

Okay, so Nesbo isn't Larssson - who is he? He's a Norwegian writer of well-crafted and quite nasty thrillers. How did he get to this position? Perhaps from early childhood reading of Lord Of The Flies: " because on the cover there was a picture of a pig’s bloodstained head impaled on a pole. My father read it and I thought I could have made the story more exciting myself. I had already begun to impress friends my age, and some older children, with my gruesome ghost stories." Writing and school were put aside in favour of football until he did his cruciate ligaments: he then joined the army and spent three years in a snowy outpost catching up on the high school syllabus.

A high school diploma took him to Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration to study economics; whilst at Uni he joined a band and started writing lyrics - but not selling records. Even Youtube hasn't heard of De Tusen Hjem (probably a good thing, given the sort of music that comes out of Norway these days). A post-university band, Di Derre, was more successful and had a best selling album in Norway - about a hundred copies but it's more than I've ever sold.

Still not quite the free spirit, Nesbo went into stockbroking, lasted a year and finally took himself off to Sydney to write a novel. The Bat Man was published in the fall of 1997 and won a major Norwegian award - Nesbo was on the right path at last.

To date he's written eight novels, all featuring Harry Hole: a very flawed detective. Prone to major bouts of alcoholism, unable to relate to many of his police colleagues, desperately dangerous to be around, Hole is an interesting character - saved from the scrapheap by a fantastic detection rate and, it has to be said, some almost unbelievable physical stunts. He's like Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch on steroids. Or methamphetamine.

The novels are layered, with enough red herrings and false climaxes to suit a fishmonger in a brothel. There's maverick police work, there's enough of Hole's deeply unhappy private life to make us warm to him, there are cracking plots and well scripted action sequences. Hollywood will be looking at some of these and checking their stunt men's insurance budgets.

So, would I let my mother read them? No - this isn't Dick Francis or Poirot. There's sex (some) and too much violence - though it's not always made as bloody as it might be - Nesbo knows that less detail, coldly scientific exposition, even a touch of the metaphysical, all make a book more chilling. Could the vicar read them? Only the thin-faced unmarried clergy.

Author's own site

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LisaAuch said...

Well i loved Larrson's trilogy so I shall need to check out Nesbo, great review, and I just love the way you described thered herrings and false climaxes, I nearly wet myself laughing! - I am interested to check out his work now great review

naymin said...

I like your blog. It is reall great to read your writing.

Paul said...

Thank you both, always good to get a compliment!

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