Periodically I like to step outside my proverbial reading comfort zone and read something that I know is liked and admired by a plentiful number of other people in order to ascertain if I am in fact missing out. That is exactly what I did with the new Jo Nesbo. I’ve only read one Jo Nesbo book before (Phantom, the ninth book in the Harry Hole series) – and whilst I didn’t out and out dislike it, I did wonder what I was missing from not having the eight previous books in the series. It also wasn’t good enough, in many ways, to send me scurrying back through the series. So there is that. Blood on Snow is, we gather, the first of a proposed trilogy (and so not to be thought of in the same way as his standalone books, Headhunters and The Son). It’s also (a) quite thin and (b) set at what looks like 14 point, so it’s the kind of book you can race through at a gallop. Which we like sometimes.
Our hero (of sorts) is Olav. A fixer. Which is another word for hitman. Olav has a distinct moral compass (of sorts) and has, in the past, given the money he was paid for a particular hit to the family of the person he hit, to assuage whatever doubts he has about how he chooses to live his life. He is also in love, possibly, with Maria, a girl he thinks is deaf and mute, a girl who he rescued from a life of prostitution after her junkie boyfriend ran up debts with Olav’s boss, Daniel Hoffman. Whilst we’re dispensing a bit of scene-setting, it’s also worth saying that Olav doesn’t think he is very bright, may have dyslexia, but quite likes to read and often makes connections between what he is experiencing and what he has read. Whilst I’m willing to admit that I don’t know everything (and how! you might add), I’ve not chanced across too many people in my life who are brutish and given to ruminating on whether something is a line from TS Eliot or not. So (again, possibly as a result of my limited experience) I’m going to nail my colours to the mast and say that I think Nesbo is trying to have his cake and eat it with Olav but in having his cake and eating it, he creates a character who is somewhat unbelievable. Not that a character being believable is necessarily the be-all and end-all (I’m not one of those people), but it nags all the same.
But what about the story? Let’s cut to that, shall we? Basically Hoffman hires Olav to do away with Hoffman’s wife, Corina. Corina is – don’t you just know it? – the polar opposite of Maria: glamourous, sexy, given to writhing on a chaise longue with her lover, a young man who likes it rough, and slaps her about a bit before departing each day. Hoffman is the kind of man who can’t let his woman do him wrong so he’s asked Olav to do away with her. Only Olav knows if he does away with Hoffman’s missus, Hoffman will more than likely do away with him too (because Hoffman couldn’t have an employee who knew he’d had his wife killed). So Olav bides his time, watches Corina, comes to think she’s a bit of alright and then decides to do away with the lover instead. Which proves to be a mistake. So. Olav skedaddles across town with Corina and attempts to make a deal with Hoffman’s deadly enemy, The Fisherman. That probably tells you enough about the plot for you to get an idea about whether it’s appealing to you or not.
Other things you should know about Blood on Snow. Nesbo likes to write in short sentences. More than that. Nesbo likes to write sentences that move the action along. Often short sentences. Like the last one. And this one. Sentences. Sometimes. Of. Just. A. Single. Word. Similarly, the motivation of his characters can be somewhat rudimentary at times. The Nesbo world is not a complex one. Nesbo’s people are driven by simple urges. Like, I am hungry, therefore I must eat. Like, I am in a bad situation, I need to resolve this by killing someone. Complexity in Nesbo world (or at least the Nesbo world of Blood on Snow) is revealed by characters saying one thing and doing another (the twisty double cross that you always know is coming). Is it somewhat crude or is it somewhat dashed off? Who can say? For this reader, it left me where I started. Still don’t feel I have a firm handle on what all the Jo Nesbo fuss is about. Still not quite ready to dismiss him on the basis of what I’ve read. Maybe we’ll dabble with the next thrilling instalment of Blood on the Snow (due later in the year)…
Any Cop?: Based on the evidence here, this feels like lesser Nesbo. But maybe it’s just the opening gambit of a longer story that will build as it goes. We’ll reserve our judgement for a bit.