The Snowman, by Jo Nesbo
So here we go with The Snowman - confirmation, if confirmation were needed, that Jo Nesbo is the new King of Scandinavian crime.
For those who recently completed their Stieg Larsson and need something equally toothsome, look no further than Nesbo’s Harry Hole books. For those underwhelmed by the new Henning Mankell, relax, there are five Jo Nesbo’s waiting. To Harry Hole aficionados, plump up a cushion, take the phone off the hook and get hold of something warm and red to drink – The Snowman is, if anything, the best of all the Harry Hole books to date.
In some ways this series shouldn’t work. Harry Hole is a crime fiction uber cliche – alcoholic, maverick, driven, damaged, anti-authoritarian. Yet in Nesbo’s hands he has become the single most compelling character in contemporary crime.
The first three Harry Hole outings saw fantastically plotted stories take place against the backdrop of an overarching saga of murderous corruption within the Oslo police force. Having rooted that lot out, no wonder last year’s The Redeemer felt a little slight in comparison. Enjoyable enough, but in reality a palate-cleansing pause for breath in Harry’s world. Now with The Snowman we’re right back into the thick of it, with Harry Hole pitted against Norway’s first serial killer. And the Oslo police force.
Yet this sturm und drang is a new start for Harry. Separated from his girlfriend, on the wagon and back in the saddle, his is a lonely, spartan life. Harry’s every waking hour is dedicated to taking the sins of the world onto his shoulders so that we don’t have to, even at the cost of his own sanity. He is a hero of the Old West transplanted to modern day Norway. He is an updated version of Chandler’s battered walker of the mean streets. It is simple heroism updated for a complicated world and The Snowman is the story of a hero’s progress.
Henning Mankel, dark as he is, comes from a lineage of socially aware writers going back to Sjowall and Wahloo’s excellent Martin Beck series. Nesbo’s work is of a different stripe. It’s weather beaten, grizzled, singular, elemental. If anything Nesbo has created, in Harry Hole, the Johnny Cash of crime fiction.
This is exemplary writing with a unique sense of place, character and plotting. In other words everything you could ask for and a reminder of why we read this stuff in the first place. The Snowman is as good a crime novel as you will read this year.