Tag Archives: Jo Nesbø

On Nesbø’s “The Snowman”

22 May

ed0508bksnowjpg-adb1e53006775feaAs of right now, I’m in the middle of a big change: moving myself, my girlfriend, and a small paunchy cat from Boston to Seattle. Due to my short-sightedness, this means my entire library is in a fleet of boxes that are probably being physically abused by the U.S. Postal Service somewhere in Omaha, Nebraska, or something, and I was temporarily (for like eight or nine hours) without a book to read. Luckily, we have these things called libraries, and I had the pleasure of using one the other day.

I decided to choose a book I normally wouldn’t consider and found myself in the mystery section. Beyond the handful of Agatha Christie novels I read my freshman year of high school, I’m not very cozy with the genre, and honestly, I’d much rather watch Benedict Cumberbatch solve crimes on TV than read about some less Benedict Cumberbatchy solve one in a book.

But alas, my impulses got the better of me and I snatched up Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman. I’m rather glad that I did. I won’t lie: I chose the book for its catchy cover art and relatively tame-sounding title, but Nesbø’s novel (the seventh in the Harry Hole [Seriously?! “Harry Hole?!” Weren’t you thinking of your English readership when coming up with that one, Nesbø?!] series) is anything but tame and much more than catchy cover art.

The Snowman is the moniker of Norway’s first serial killer, who the police discover is kidnapping married women and mysteriously spiriting away their bodies. On the case is Norway’s only officer trained in catching serial killers: the notorious, alcoholic, loose cannon, “I’m-haunted-by-the-lost-love-of-my-ex-who-couldn’t-stand-my-passionate-police-force-awesomeness,” stereotypical Inspector Harry Hole. You can probably guess how the rest plays out in broad strokes.

I will never again look at a snowman the same way. *Shudder* This is like that time after I watched "Signs" and couldn't walk past cornfields for months.

I will never again look at a snowman the same way. *Shudder* This is like that time after I watched “Signs” and couldn’t walk past cornfields for months.

Nesbø uses language as a simple tool for conveyance. It’s a sharp comedown (having just finished Cunningham’s lyrical novel The Hours) when tripping over cold, Norwegian names full of unfamiliar diacritics is the most titillating part of a sentence. On the other hand, Nesbø’s plot moves quickly and fluidly. The story swept me along every which way, and I was happy to go along with the flow. But your lone female police officer has a tight ass and gets emotionally unstable during her menstrual cycle? Groundbreaking.

Now that I have the sarcastic criticism out of my system, I will say Nesbø has what all mystery writers must pine for: the ability to take a stereotypical character and a predictable plot (as far as mystery novels go, there’s a mystery and then it’s solved but the good guy who conquers his demons, learns something about himself, has a revelation at the end and wins), and make something wonderfully entertaining. Nesbø knows how to stimulate emotional response. He knows when to plan his climaxes and when to lull you into a false sense of security. It’s thrilling to realize you, as a reader, are perfectly willing to let yourself be tugged into another person’s fiction.

Nesbø also possesses an undeniable talent for imagery. It’s not the elaborate talent of capital L “Literature,” but it’s enough to create several poignant scenes framed by the stark backdrop of Norway in November. I suppose this is the attraction of Scandinavian mysteries these days: nothing is more bleak than Scandinavia in winter, and nothing is more horrific than blood on snow.

Boy, it sure is gorgeous over in snowy Oslofjord ... but I still don't want to die there. (By Walter_S, Steve's Digicams)

Boy, it sure is gorgeous over in snowy Oslofjord … but I still don’t want to die there. (By Walter_S, Steve’s Digicams)

Don’t worry: there are no spoilers here, per se, but I will tell you to brace yourselves for multiple false endings, Return of the King (the film)-style. Unlike Peter Jackson’s bumpy film trilogy conclusion, Nesbø maintains the high adrenaline for his readers. I felt like I was sprinting through the conclusion, whipping past those false endings with desperate, genuine excitement, not annoyance, and I’m still catching my breath. I look forward to reading more of Inspector Hole in the future, and I would recommend The Snowman to anyone looking for the next mystery genre obsession or just a few hours of escapist fun. (Books like these, though, just make me anxious for the film adaptation.)