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Category Archive for 'Norway'

Thirteen is certainly not an unlucky number for Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, whose thirteenth crime novel has just been released in English. Winner of countless prizes, including the prestigious Glass Key Award, the Edgar Award, and Norway’s Peer Gynt Prize, Nesbo has written ten novels in the Harry Hole series, and three stand-alone novels, Headhunters, The Son, and now Blood on Snow, a novel quite different in length, focus, and tone from all that have gone before. Readers who admire Nesbo for his ability to write in a variety of thriller subgenres from horror (The Snowman) to an historical about Norway’s Nazi past and neo-Nazi present (The Redbreast) – have come to expect complex, multi-layered plots punctuated by action scenes of almost unimaginable violence. This short novel about a hired killer introduces a newer style, however – leaner, cleaner, and more introspective, with wonderful ironic humor new for readers of Nesbo. Though the novel certainly has its excitements, much of the novel capitalizes on the ironies which exist between the thinking of Olav Johansen, the young, dyslexic main character, and his actions as a “fixer.” It is through Olav’s running commentary that the reader understands the narrative, and one cannot miss the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the author who is controlling this character.

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Norwegian author Linn Ullmann’s novel The Cold Song defies easy categories. It is not really a mystery, since the opening line announces that “Milla, or what was left of her, was found by Simen and two of his friends when they were digging for buried treasure in the woods.” We also know from the first page that a “boy known as K.B.” was later arrested and charged with her death. Still, this dark novel, filled with foreboding throughout, creates an atmosphere which mystery lovers will find intriguing, if not gripping, as the lives of the main characters move back and forth in time, creating their own suspense as each character reveals personal secrets and emotional limitations. Siri Brodal, the owner of two well-established restaurants; her husband, Jon, the author of two best-selling novels; their strange, sometimes irrational eleven-year-old daughter Alma; and Siri’s mother Jenny, a feisty, no-nonsense woman who is about to have her seventy-fifth birthday, form the crux of the novel and control the emotional climate throughout. Haunting all the action, however, is nineteen-year-old Milla, who disappeared two years ago, shortly after she was hired to care for Alma and her much younger sister Liv during the family’s summer vacation on the Norwegian coast. The discovery of Milla’s mangled remains, as the novel opens two years after her disappearance, preoccupies all the characters and looms over the action throughout.

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Norwegian author Jo Nesbo never writes the same book twice, even within his best-selling series of ten Harry Hole thrillers. From The Redbreast, an historical novel which examines Norway’s Nazi era past and its neo-Nazi present, to The Snowman, a horror novel which out-horrors Stephen King, and The Leopard, with action which moves from Norway to Hong Kong and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nesbo always keeps the narrative moving at a ferocious pace, and the excitement at fever pitch. Though the reader does come to know Harry Hole and those who share his life to some extent during these ten novels, the emphasis has always been on action and thrills. Harry, an alcoholic loner at heart, has never been complex. Nesbo’s focus changes with The Son, a standalone novel. Though the plot here is every bit as fast-paced as those of Nesbo’s Harry Hole novels, the scope is smaller and more intimate, and for the first time, Nesbo seems to be allowing the reader inside his characters, making his characters and themes more complex and fully-developed. I loved it.

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This is one of the most memorable books I have read in many years (and I can count on one hand the times I have said that in a review). Breath-taking in its emotional impact, insightful in its depiction of the main character and themes, and completely honest, I found myself in tears in places, silently begging the main character not to make some of the choices that I knew she would inevitably make. Eva, an ordinary, elderly woman with a now-silent husband, ten years older, tells her own story, with all the hesitations, flashbacks, regrets, and questions which are tormenting her now and which have confounded her husband. In creating Eva, Norwegian author Merethe Lindstrom has brought to life one of the most vividly depicted characters I have ever “known,” a character filled with flaws, like the rest of us, prone to second-guessing, like the rest of us, and sometimes overcome with regret for past mistakes, like the rest of us, and she does this without any hints of authorial manipulation in Eva’s story, which feels as if it is emerging of its own will from Eva’s depths. More reminiscent of a memoir than fiction, Eva’s story ultimately offers much to think about, while offering its own silent commentary on the choices we make and how they affect those around us. Though this is one of the most memorable books I have read in years, it will not appeal to everyone. See last paragraph of review.

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Following another of Nesbo’s most exciting novels, Police (the sequel to Phantom) comes the English language release of Cockroaches, a very early novel originally published in Norway in 1998, the second in the Harry Hole series. This novel has won no prizes, and those who read it, as I did, in the hope of seeing the continuing development of an author who made a quantum leap from his fairly simple first two novels (The Bat, and Cockroaches, both OK) to the complex and superbly developed novel The Redbreast (outstanding), his third novel, may be disappointed by this novel’s consistent lack of clear focus. In Cockroaches, Detective Harry Hole is chosen by the Norwegian Foreign Office to go to Thailand to investigate the murder of Norway’s ambassador to Thailand, who has been found in a brothel with an elaborate old knife in his back. . Readers who have enjoyed the later novels may be surprised by this one, which shows little about Harry himself and even less about the secondary characters, but those who have read all the other Harry Hole novels will probably also read this one, for the sake of “completion,” if nothing else. Those new to the series may want to begin with The Redbreast, certainly one of the best of the series, and then read the others in the series in the order in which they were published.

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