Written by Jo Nesbo, translated by Neil Smith — Ever since the ambiguous ending of Police in 2013, Jo Nesbo’s fans have been waiting. Waiting, and wondering if there will be another Harry Hole thriller. The wait continues but in the meantime the Norwegian author, and flag bearer for Scandinavian crime fiction, has been doing his own thing. The Son, his last book, was a dark and depressing mystery driven by a young convict wrapped up in grief over his father’s suicide. Blood on Snow, however, does away with the complexities of a mystery and is pure noir. Pure, bloody, cold, atmospheric and engaging noir.
It’s set in Oslo in the late 1970s. Olav is a fixer for Daniel Hoffmann, a drug trafficker who’s come up with an ingenious way of getting heroin into the city. The product travels from Afghanistan, through the Soviet Union, and crosses into Norway on a tiny island in the Arctic Ocean that’s shared by both countries but doesn’t have a particularly well-patrolled border. Hoffman’s henchman Olav is not numerically talented enough to be a dealer. Nor was he any good at pimping. He always felt sorry for the girls. Getaway driver? Rubbish at that too. So instead he does what he’s best at – putting a pistol up to someone and ending their existence. He shifts units, as he sees it.
When Hoffman finds out his wife has been cheating on him he decides not to kill the cuckold, but to get his wife ‘fixed’. Olav is the first man he calls. So our anti-hero sets up observation of Corina Hoffmann in order to work out the best way to kill her without being caught and without Hoffmann getting the jacket for murder. Trouble is, cat-like and full-breasted, she is a sensual woman and Olav falls in love with her. Instead of carrying out his mission, he kills the man who visits Corina during the day for bouts of rough sex.
While Hoffman’s not happy to hear it, Corina treats Olav like he’s a knight in shining armour and soon she’s hiding with him in his apartment. Not long after that, they are in bed together. Olav decides the only way for their love to last will be if he fixes Hoffmann and they flee to Paris together. The only problem is he has no money. So he pays a visit to The Fisherman, another Oslo crime lord who is Hoffmann’s enemy and therefore his own enemy too. Olav is set on a course that will see him hide in a coffin in a church crypt, trigger cocked not knowing who he can trust.
This is the tale of a hitman with a heart who, the minute he senses the redeeming power of love in his life, must make some difficult choices. His search for something good, after a life so bad, exposes his weaknesses as well. The story is driven by Olav’s character and Nesbo is, as ever, a perfect storyteller. The things that made Olav what he is – from his father’s brutality to his mother’s alcoholism and on to his own dyslexia – are peeled away and yet the narrative never misses a beat. We see our anti-hero discovering some hope of salvation, and we also see his world disintegrate. Can he live the dream and run away with Corina Hoffmann?
Jo Nesbo’s prose is as poetic and evocative as ever. All the action takes place during a cold snap around Christmas time and the city is shrouded in darkness. Snow, in its many forms and textures, is all that brings lightness to this book and even then it’s a novel that begins and ends with blood seeping into and darkening the pure white powder.
Apparently, the rights to this novel have been snapped up by Warner Bros. While fans of Harry Hole will find this quite different to what they’re used to, it’s an excellent read and I just can’t see a film being quite as good…
Blood on Snow is released 9 April. Read our interview with Jo Nesbo here, and our guide to the Harry Hole series here. If you like the sound of this you might also enjoy Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars