What is it about Scandinavian crime writers? For some years now, the crime thriller genre in both book, film and television form has become synonymous with Scandinavia. Dark, gritty stories, shot in the icy monochrome landscapes of mid winter, often using bleak industrial settings have become a trademark style that has set the imagination of the world afire and no doubt conversely has also set back the cause of Scandinavian tourism promoters seeking to portray the region in a more favourable light.
There appears to be a cultural or environmental influence that has established writers from the region at the forefront of the crime thriller genre. Television series such as The Bridge, The Killing and Wallander have taken the Scandinavian crime thriller to the world. The Swede Stieg Larsson’s confronting crime thrillers (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest) have also consolidated the reputation of Scandinavia for this genre.
Jo Nesbo is now Norway’s most successful writer. Three million copies of his novels have been sold within Norway and twenty three million world-wide, translated into forty languages.
Nesbo came to writing almost by default. As a young man he was an elite soccer player whose promising career ended prematurely through a debilitating knee injury. By necessity, his career took another turn. He graduated from the Norwegian School of Economics, worked as a journalist and then later as an economist. His first crime novel featuring the detective Harry Hole, was published in Norway in 1997. Apart from his rapid rise to fame as a writer of crime fiction, mystery fiction, children’s books, short stories and non-fiction, Nesbo has also achieved recognition as the main vocalist and songwriter for the Norwegian rock band, Di Derre.
The Snowman is the fifth of Nesbo’s novels to be translated into English and is one of ten works to date in the Harry Hole series. Detective Harry Hole is a complex, multi-faceted character; a self confessed but single minded workaholic with zero tolerance for those who cannot share his passion and commitment for the job at hand. Harry’s predilection for hard work and his obsessive zeal is often revealed when all apparent avenues of investigation fail to produce results. Such situations lead Harry to explore abstract possibilities that are frequently ridiculed by his superiors within the Crime Squad and National Criminal Investigation Service (KRIPOS) in Oslo. Harry’s often unconventional approach, his obsessive nature and his personal battle with alcoholism plus the impact of failed relationships serve to create a fascinating, irascible but ultimately loveable character.
Nesbo is a master at creating well rounded and unusual characters and situations that explore the deeper nuances of human relationships. His plots are never as simple as they may first appear. Just when the reader believes he/she has identified the killer, another layer of intrigue and doubt is added to the storyline. The phrase ‘page turner’ is frequently used to describe a compelling read. The Snowman most certainly fits this category. The drama, the crisp and evocative writing style, the unpredictable twists and turns of the storyline, the empathy and repugnance readers share for the range of characters, particularly Hole himself, the plausibility of plot lines and the way Nesbo constantly tests the morality and beliefs of the reader through life and death judgements made within the narrative, ensure the reader is held transfixed until the final page. This indeed is a read that is hard to put aside.
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo is published by Random House and is also available on Kindle via Amazon.