Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo

517Sl6iwsUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This is a stand-alone book by Jo Nesbo, a thriller described as “electrifying” in the blurb.

While it tells the story of a contract killer, Olav, known as “a fixer”, a surprisingly likeable if not sympathetic “gun for hire” whose boss hires him to remove someone and for whom, over a very short period of time, Olav develops feelings for, complicating his professional status, it’s also a tale about love and betrayal.

Olav is represented as a person who fell into being a hitman because he’s unable to perform the other tasks expected of a criminal such as driving the getaway car.  He’s also self-aware  – of his failures and foibles –  and despite his occupation, possesses a conscience. He seems to genuinely care for those affected by his deadly work – the humans that form part of the collateral damage when someone close to them is murdered.

Though I have loved the Harry Hole series and really enjoyed the two other stand alones by Nesbo I’ve read, this one just didn’t seem to reach the lyrical and graphic heights of the others – not in terms of plot (which was predictable and a little too neat) or in characterisation. This is especially true of the women. One of the female leads was so two-dimensional and unconvincing that you couldn’t believe any of the relationships she formed let alone that someone would develop deep feelings for her and put so much at risk. The other, well, beset by disabilities and tragedy, she became a cipher for sympathy and never rang true.

Also described as a meditation on life and death, the book offers some profound insights, and Nesbo’s writing is taut and lovely to read, but for some reason, this story, short for Nesbo as well, just missed the mark for me.

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Book Review: The Son by Jo Nesbo

An unabashed fan ofThe Son Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, I approached this stand alone novel, The Son, with a degree of reluctance. Initially, I found my misgivings (that Nesbo hadn’t written another Hole book) founded as the story was a bit slow to start and, for me, difficult to engage with. Then, whoompa! The tale of Sonny Lofthus, a drug addicted but strangely charismatic prisoner (who absolves other hardened inmates of their sins), whose policeman father committed suicide many years ago after being exposed as a corrupt cop, is a high-octane and compelling read. As the story progresses, we learn that after his dad’s death, the once promising and talented Lofthus spiralled into crime and drugs and when the book opens, seems content with the bottom upon which he currently dwells. A bottom that sees him taking drugs and responsibility for all sorts of crimes – even those that occur outside the prison walls and which extend his sentence into perpetuity… As long as he is given the drugs that hasten forgetfulness and ennui, he doesn’t give a damn….

That all changes the day an inmate comes to visit him for absolution, making a confession and revealing facts about his father’s suicide he didn’t know. Suddenly, Lofthus not only has a reason to live, but a need to escape his confines, the debt he’s in to a crime lord known as “The Twin”, and redeem his father’s name and enact the revenge that’s long overdue.

Concurrent and intertwined with Lofthus’ tale is that of Chief Inspector, Simon Kefas, and his female side-kick, Kari who, after Lofthus escapes, is called upon to investigate a spate of grisly murders. There is a connection between Kefas and Lofthus that goes back years – one that sees Kefas obligated to investigate murders that seem cut and dried. A washed-up cop but with experience, Kefas refuses to accept that the perpetrator of the crimes is the person all evidence points towards. Operating against the advice of his peers and superiors, there are shades of Hole in Kefas as he fights for justice and understanding – not just for himself, but for Lofthus as well.

There are so many twists and turns in this novel and for fans of the Hole series, this is what Nesbo does so well. Just when you think you can predict a motive or foreshadow events, Nesbo turns everything on its head. There are familiar characters in the sense that Nesbo does the disillusioned, anti-hero with a complex emotional life and conflicting motives so well, but each character, even those who make brief appearances, are also complicated, fascinating and together work to resolve the intricate puzzle this novel becomes.

A knotty morality underpins this narrative as well – Lofthus’ and Kefas’ tales – that turns ethics and suppositions about right and wrong on their heads. That is what I love about Nesbo’s novels – the characters and their arcs are never black and white but many shades of grey and then some.  Unpredictable, dark and after an initial slow-burn, a novel that takes off at the speed of light, this is a wonderful stand alone for those who love an exciting, roller-coaster read with head and heart.

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Book Review: Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

I adore the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo and, from the first books I read in translation have been struck by his slick prose, tight plotting and wonderful characterization, characterization that is so skilled it allows the reader to both experience and understand the hero’s strengths and weaknesses and thus forgive and support his actions. Headhunters, a one-off book set in corporate Oslo, did not impress nor captivate me nearly as much.

While theHeadhunters first person narrative contains the usual Nesbo flair for thrilling plots populated by ghastly villains and miscellaneous others who exit and enter, the characters in Headhunters failed to leave an impression. Part of the reason for this, I think, is because from the outset, they are quite superficial. The lead character and POV of the novel, headhunter and part-time art thief, Roger Brown, is a narcissistic prat (and unattractive  – in the psychological and emotional sense – anti-hero) who boasts about not only the way he can read people, but practically every other element of his life: his outstanding reputation in his main gig as a corporate headhunter, his grasp of FBI interrogation techniques and perfection of them, his beautiful art-gallery owner wife, his hair, his manner of dress etc. etc. While he tries to suggest he is comfortable with his relatively short stature, there is also a sense in which he does protest too much and the reader cannot help but think that Roger works hard to overcompensate. This is something that, in many ways, holds true when he meets the more than capable former executive and soldier Clas Greve, and decides he might be a suitable candidate for a top job. But when Roger learns that this man also owns an original Rubens, the cocky Roger decides to risk another job on the side; only, he ends up risking more than he ever bargained for and a deadly cat and mouse game, a head-hunting of a different and very final kind, ensues.

As mentioned above, I didn’t like any of the characters in this book. While I wondered if this was social commentary on Nesbo’s part, a sort of satire about how shallow and egotistic we’ve become, and the reader wasn’t meant to like anyone, I am now, on reflection, not so sure. After all, in Nesbo’s later books – the Hole ones – one of the great strengths is the marvellous shades of grey in which characters are painted, revealing the rich canvas of what passes for morality and how even ethics have a context. In Headhunters, no such complexity exists and rather than a three-dimensional picture of human foibles and choices, we are given a very superficial portrayal indeed.

Furthermore, the plot was clichéd in parts, too far-fetched in others (the scene in the outdoor toilet was just silly) and above all, predictable. Mind you, that didn’t mean I wanted to stop reading, Nesbo is a very good storyteller after all. It just meant I didn’t really care. I didn’t care who lived, who died or what the outcome was. I didn’t invest. That made me feel a little sad.

Reading that Hollywood is making a film out of this book surprised me. It’s not that original – I would have thought the Hole stories would have offered much more complex fare – maybe that’s the rub. Still, it’s not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination and made for a quick summer read. It’s just not the Nesbo I have come to admire and look forward to so much.

 

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Book Review: Police by Jo Nesbo

ThisPolice: A Harry Hole Novel is such a hard book to review because even the smallest detail about the content – the way the story unfolds (which can be very persuasive in a review) – runs the risk of spoiling what is an absolute cracker of an addition to the Harry Hole canon. All I can say is that the narrative didn’t begin as I anticipated at all, even though it follows on from the events in the last book, The Leopard, and it’s this defying of expectations that sets the standard and pace for the rest of the tale. As Police opens, we’re back in Oslo, there are grisly murders a-plenty only, this time, the stakes are even higher as it’s members of the force that are being killed. Not only that, but their deaths are a brutal reenactment of cold cases – cases that the new victims were once assigned to solve. As the body count grows, so does the pressure and the fear – who will be next and why?

Never has the act of reading been so analogous to riding a roller coaster as you are lifted to great heights before being flung into complete, heart-stopping despair; there are twists and turns, false corners and such sharply angled ones, you sustain the equivalent of literary whiplash reading this book.

What is also evident from the moment the story starts, is that you’re in the hands of a master. There’s a sense in which, as gruesome as this bloody tale of revenge and thwarted intentions is, Nesbo is having fun with the reader… He is playing mind games with us and they damn well work. Persuading us into one way of thinking only to reveal another, Police, perhaps more than any other of the Hole books, allows us to identify with the investigation, gives us access to the minds and feelings of the frustrated investigators as we share their experiences, concerns and suspicions. Nesbo not only leads us up one garden path, that he has cobbled, bordered with plants, lit brightly or plunged into darkness, strewing it with characters we expect to find and those we do not, he then strands us in the middle of what we quickly understand isn’t a path, it’s a labyrinth. A psychological, emotional and physical one that familiar characters and new ones inhabit with varying degrees of comfort and control. There is never a dull moment in this tale, nor is there an opportunity to catch your breath. Not for the faint-hearted, this latest (and I hope not final as has been rumored) addition to the Hole series is simply brilliant.

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Book Review: The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo

The fifth book in the Harry Hole sequence, The Devil’s Star, is quite simply, a cracker. Fast-paced from beginning to end, it is brutal, unrelenting and always fascinating. I cannot put these Harry Hole books down and know when I pick one up, I am in for long nights and an emotional ride – The Devil’s Star was no different.

The novel commences in a steamy summer in Olso when a young woman’s body is found with a finger severed and a small ruby five-pointed star is secreted in her body. This being a NeThe Devil's Star (Harry Hole, #5)sbo novel, it’s inevitable that where there’s one body, others will follow. Soon there’s a trail of brutality and bloodshed that Harry and his team have to try and stop. But this novel isn’t only about bodies in apartments; it’s also about skeletons in closets and Harry’s private and professional life spiralling out of control. In trying to come to grips with the loss of fellow detective, Ellen Gjetlen (who met her death in the brilliant third book, Redbreast), something he feels responsible for, Harry spirals back into alcoholism and the reader recoils and gasps as he stumbles from flashes of brilliance and terrific work to dejection, loss of control and the demon drink. The way Nesbo portrays the thrall of alcoholism, the seductive and terrible allure of the bottle is unlike anything I’ve read before and you ache for Harry but also understand why he gives in to its power.

On top a difficult case, Harry also has to deal with the threat of his colleague, the charismatic and dangerous Tom Waller, whom he suspects of crimes far worse than those he’s encountering as they involve betrayal of the worst kind. Add to that that he’s about to be sacked from the force, and the plot becomes thicker than treacle and just as dark – you never see what’s coming. That’s the beauty of Nesbo’s books, you cannot second guess the story, or predict Harry’s actions.

Though tautly plotted, I found the motivation for the main crime less convincing than usual, and the final scene between Harry and the killer a tiny bit overplayed. Having said that, the enthralling cat and mouse game between Harry and his nemesis that begins the moment you open the book more than compensated for this. Brilliant, the rush towards the climax and how this particular storyline is resolved is breath-taking and utterly believable.

Nesbo would have to be among the finest writing in this style – the anti-hero hero who is more flawed than faultless, clever yet vulnerable and with a heart of gold. Harry is someone who is capable of fixing everyone else’s problems but not his own; who inspires love and often returns it only to discover his greatest love will always triumph and thus ensure his relationships are always doomed. The Norwegian setting (and others) is so beautifully drawn, it too becomes a beguiling yet seedy character to which you long to return, no matter what the reading cost – mostly sleepless nights and eagerness for the next book.

A fabulous addition to a terrific series.

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