Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Book Group – May is for Scandicrime

The Snowmanby Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett

Scandicrime is a very big thing these days. It was always there – after the American Ed McBain, the next big writers of police procedurals were from Sweden. Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö wrote the ten Martin Beck novels from the mid 1960s onwards – see my write-up of the first in the series here. Our current obsession was fired by the success of Henning Mankell’s Wallander books (and TV) and now many more fine Scandinavian crime writers are being translated – we can’t get enough of them, which brings me to Jo Nesbo…

Nesbo is Norwegian; a former stockbroker and journalist, he’s a singer and songwriter in a band, and author of a children’s book called Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder apart from the bestselling series of novels we’re getting to know.

We chose The Snowman as it was everywhere thanks to being chosen for Richard & Judy. It turns out to be the fifth in the series, so the lead characters are well established.  Harry Hole is an inspector in the Oslo police, and has been trained in profiling by the FBI but has yet to encounter a serial killer on his manor. When a boy finds his mother missing, it’s not long before the team find out that there have been more missing women over the years, and then another woman goes missing. It all gets very complicated very quickly, and right from the off, we are fed a series of red herrings before it finally becomes clear who the killer is. Complex it may be, but it was easy to get hooked and we all sped through the book’s 550 pages.

Harry Hole is another classic maverick detective, damaged goods, an alcoholic. He lives for his job, but still has an on-off relationship with his ex girlfriend and her son. In this novel, he gets a new sidekick, Katrine Bratt, a young, attractive woman with hidden depths and is slightly reminiscent of Stieg Larsson’s Lizbeth Salander in a less extreme way. Together they make an interesting pairing.  Hole’s other colleagues meanwhile fulfill all the different stereotypes usually present in a novel’s police department.

Personally, I’d have preferred to start at the beginning of the series, as there are references to events in earlier books, and characters who come to the fore in this one are, according to one of our group who read the one before this one too, set up in place – which suggests that Nesbo has a story arc planned for the books.  This left our group wondering about the ‘mould man’ – would he turn out to be more than a expert in dry rot, in the next!

We felt that the pacing was slightly stop-start, but the genuinely scary scenes largely made up for that. I for one, would happily read more, although I think I prefer Wallander to Harry Hole, as Hole seemed to have an emptiness in his heart for me in this novel – but one reading just one, it’s hard to get to know him well. (7.5/10)

Of course there are loads more Scandinavian crime authors I’ve not had time to visit yet too, including the Icelander author Arnaldur Indridason in my TBR pile, and my late mother really liked Hakun Nesser, whom I’ve not read either.

Do you have a favourite Scandinavian crime novelist? Your recommendations are welcome.

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I bought my copy. To get one from Amazon UK, click below:
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo.

14 Comments

  1. I read this recently and haven’t read any of the others in the series. I was a bit underwhelmed, I’m afraid. Not a patch on Larsson.

  2. I agree about starting at the beginning of the series. This was my first Nesbo and I felt as though I was missing things throughout the book. I loved the scary snowman scenes, but I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped. I will still read book 1 when it comes out, but I’m not going to start in the middle of a series again.

  3. gaskella

    May 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Nothing beats knowing the back story. I’ll wait for No 1 too, then do it in order.

  4. It is interesting Annabel because originally after I read the first one I thought ‘oooh I cannot wait to read the rest’ now that I have had some distance from it, read some Val McDermid who is sooooo addictive, I feel a little bit ambivilant about them now. I have the others so will get to them… eventually. (Loving the new look by the way, am playing blog catch up!)

    • gaskella

      May 11, 2011 at 10:24 pm

      I’ve never read Val McDermid – which is something I must remedy one day. I can see what you mean by feeling ambivalent about Nesbo with distance though as I read this a month ago. Although the crimes were brilliant, there was something a little pedestrian about the police work, and Harry Hole was empty (pun intended). Yet I still will read more – I like the settings.

  5. The earliest of the Nesbo books available here in translation at the moment is The Redbreast which I have read and enjoyed and finished liking Harry Hole as a character and I have the next in line, Nemesis, in my TBR pile.
    I have only read the first Larssen but on balance I think I prefer Nesbo.
    I have read one Indridason, Twisted Blood, which was the earliest in the series that I could find and enjoyed it but I am finding it hard to track down the next in the series.
    I liked a lot of Val McDermid’s previous books – she had a Manchester based female PI who I liked – but I have found her recent books to be too cold for my tastes.
    Have you read Johan Theorin? He only has a couple out but the one I read was excellent.
    I

    • gaskella

      May 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      I’m sure I have Jar City somewhere in the pile – is that the first Indridason? I also have a Theorin The darkest room isn’t he another Swede?
      Another Val McD recommendation – will have to act! Where to start? Tony Hill or others?

      • As far as I know Jar City is an alternative title to Twisted Blood. It isn’t the first book but I can’t remember if it is the first one to be translated or simply the first that I could get hold of. It’s very good anyway.

        The Darkest Room was the Theorin that I read and I really enjoyed that too – tense and compelling are good descriptions for it I think.
        As for Val McDermid, the books I liked were earlier ones featuring Kate Brannigan – I only read a couple of the Tony Hill ones and didn’t like them that much, although I think I am very much in the minority there.

  6. I highly recommend Arnaldur Indridason — I’ve read and reviewed them all here http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/authors_arnaldur_indriason/

    Not tried Nesbo and thought Larsson was hugely over-rated — I read the first one and didn’t bother with the rest.

    I quite like Karin Alvtegen, too http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/authors-karin-alvtegen/

  7. gaskella

    May 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Thanks Kim – will check your Indridason reviews out. Turns out I have Shadows by Alvtegen in the TBR already, so should promote that one. Thanks for the recommendations.

  8. I d recommend roslund and hellstrom ,I like this but like Jackie wish I d read earlier book ,all said I like it thou ,all the best stu

    • gaskella

      May 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm

      Stu – I had to look Roslund & Hellstrom up – but they sound interesting … will have to try one of theirs.

  9. lovely book review, you have a way with words. keep it up.

    check out short story slam and make a submission today.

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