The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and Don Bartlett (translator)

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The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and Don Bartlett (translator)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not the best or most individual thriller out there from European climes, but a dark and snowy read that can be very chilling, in all senses.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846553486

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It's Norway, and it's a snowy and dark November. Women are disappearing, and/or being found horrifically killed. The police have little to go on, but with the help of flashbacks across cases the police could never hope to connect, we can see hints of a clever, but misogynistic man who seems to be the culprit, and on a mission against marital infidelity. But what could be the connection with all those crimes and the American presidential elections? And why - and how - might the police, the victims, and the reader, all come to be so terrified of a good old Scandinavian snowman?

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this European thriller - Nesbo's name is one I was very aware of, even if his output had never crossed my path. It was a pity to find his returning hero, Harry Hole, rather an off-the-shelf example. He's got a drink problem, a stop-start, ongoing relationship with a woman who causes him trouble by loving him, and takes his superiors and procedure with a pinch of salt.

However there is a lot more within these pages to transcend that, and perhaps on any other day I would have given them four and a half stars. Nesbo surprised me by giving us the calm-before-the-storm bit where everyone thinks the case is closed firmly in the first half of the book. And the ending of that caesura is brilliant - cop acting very oddly in his personal investigations, baddy acting in very creepy and malicious ways. There's a very cinematic jump cut that really did have me tingling.

So we do get what I always like to enjoy - a smart criminal being outsmarted in unusual ways, and an author clever enough to invent, then write, both sides well. Nesbo provides some odd common ground between Fred Vargas, with her droll, gnomic, thinking-outside-the-box investigator Adamsberg, and something like the spooky, dark violence of Neil Cross, for example. And I licked my lips the more it went from the former to the latter.

It certainly didn't start as tautly as Cross, however. I did at times seek for less interiorising and less detail; fewer conversations (brisk as they might be) in the conference room to show the differences between Hole and his colleagues, and his new relationship with his sexy new colleague, Mrs Bratt.

Still, the book's length allows for a rich depth, letting the unusual get in the way of things, through red herrings galore, side diversions, and quirky instances of procedural. And by the end I felt more in tune with things – it seemed to get more typically Norwegian, while getting darker and creepier. There were several relishable shivers concerning the concluding crime.

So while I would still hazard to suggest Hole could do with being lifted out of one of unoriginality, and things could have been more Nordic and more sustained, there was enough to spook, enough drama to drive one through the investigation, and enough uncanny snowmen to make me consider further Nesbo adventures. This is the fifth to be translated to English, leaving out the first two, and the most recent.

Some people, finally, may think the author a little too tricksy and teasing. But the Norwegian judges who gave this title two awards for best book of the year clearly disagreed.

I must thank Harvill Secker's kind people for my review copy.

If it's more crime-split families featuring alcoholism you seek, we suggest you look first to The Missing by Jane Casey.

Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole Novels in Chronological Order

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