Thursday 5 July 2012

The Frozen North Part 1: Jo Nesbo from Norway

“For someone who spoke several different languages she said very little. Translator, I had thought. She preferred other people’s stories to her own.”

Have you read the Millennium trilogy? Stieg Larsson's books became an unprecedented success in Europe and the US. And they opened the door for other writers from “The Frozen North” to conquer Europe by storm. Which they have, and rightly so. In this series, I will talk about Scandinavian thriller writers… to see what all the fuss is about!

“For that is what the player with the most cold-blooded hatred does when he has been on the point of winning and his opponent has unexpectedly hit him in the face, struck somewhere it hurts, found his terror. He doesn’t lose his overview of the board but puts his terror aside and keeps to his plan. Breathes in, reconstructs, continues the game, walks away with the victory. Leaves the scene without any triumphant gestures.”

A Finnish colleague had suggested this thriller, Headhunters by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo, to a colleague from the UK who did not like it at all – “too gruesome”, he said. That got my attention. I love a juicy, bloody thriller that keeps me on the edge of my seat. So, I was next to read it. And although it’s very different from the other thrillers I’ve recently read (I’m a Mo Hayder fan!), where description and language work together to strike an emotional chord and draw you ever closer into the web of intrigue, despair and a sense of loss that overwhelms the victims of some cruel act, leaving you feeling just as bereft as they do, I enjoyed it very much. Headhunters is anything but emotional, and that is its greatest strength.

“It is said that a fly’s perception of time, the reason it experiences the palm of a hand zooming towards it as yawningly slow, is due to the fact that the information it receives through its facet eyes contains such a large amount of data that nature has had to equip itwith an extra-fast processor so as to be able to deal with everything in real time.
… Everything  about how we humans had been able to conquer the earth, rule over the elements, kill creatures that are greater than ourselves in speed and strength. Processor capacity.”
Jo Nesbo seems to posess the incredible talent to freeze his heart and write his stories using only his mind. In this thriller, he is a master at sounding cold and calculated, even though his protagonists are faced with the most difficult or most baffling experiences of their lifetimes. His style is short, descriptive, factual and distant. That almost cynical but always correct style, made me feel uneasy from beginning to end and, combined with a very clever story  managed to send definite shivers down my spine at certain turns in the plot. 

“Ove had once told me that the first thing that goes when you are nervous is motor coordination. He had read it in a book about one-on-one combat, how the ability to load a weapon fails when you are faced with another gun.… I fumbled more than I usually do; perhaps Ove had been right about motor coordination skills after all.”
Headhunters tells the story of Roger Brown, the most egotistical, male chauvinist you will ever meet. His extremely ambitious views of the world would shock every single one of us, but he’s a fascinating specimen of a man, for the simple reason that he’s probably very real. He’s intelligent, rich and the very best at what he does: finding the right candidate for the right job – or changing mediocre candidates in such a way that they become exactly what the client needs, even though they may not know exactly what they need when they come to Roger. He’s the master of his universe.

“Before that we had been talking all evening – or, to be more precise, I had been talking. Describing and explaining life the way I see it. I’m good at that, in a Paulo Coelho kind of way, that is, a way which fascinates the intellectually amenable of us and irritates the more demanding listener.”
To make sure his life never gets boring, he’s set up a clever little business on the side: art theft. He steals the most precious pieces of art and sells them on for huge profits. During an interview, a candidate reveals that he possesses one of the most valuable paintings in the world, and Roger cannot resist: this could be his ticket to wealth beyond his wildest dreams.

But, of course, things are never as straight-forward or easy as they seem and Roger soon finds that it’s his own head that is being hunted. How far will he go to preserve his place as king of the heap?

Jo Nesbo - Photograph by Häkon Eikesdal
Jo Nesbo is an interesting man, someone I would love to ‘talk literature’ with. He was born in Oslo in 1960. He started writing ghost stories as a child, and when his father read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies to him when he was seven, he thought he could have made the story more interesting himself.

A bad knee injury kept him from making his initial dream a reality: becoming a professional football player in the English Premier league. Instead, he studied economics, worked as a broker and started writing when everyday life was too boring to keep him interested. He plays the guitar and writes songs for his band Di Derre (they are very popular in Norway) and he has even written his very own musical. And he creates exciting, well-written thrillers. The first one was published in 1997 and because the reviews were positive, he decided to do it again, and again, and again! Check him out!

1 comment:

  1. I really love Jo Nesbo -- read the first several when they came out in German and I see they are appearing in English now.