Did I buy a copy of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo even though I’d never heard anything about it or its author because:
- (a) It was an impulse buy, near the register
- (b) It had a sticker on it that said “€4 off”
- (c) I had €5 on my loyalty card, so it was basically free
- (d) A blurb on the cover said, “The next Stieg Larsson.”
- (e) All of the above.
The answer is (e) All of the above. Yes, I’m a sucker, and yes, telling me someone is the next Larsson is a sure fire way to get me to buy their book, even though I don’t even like him all that much. And in order to buy a book, I will use things like loyalty card points to justify my purchase – whatever it takes. But boy, am I glad I picked up that book, because Jo Nesbo is one of my new favorite crime writers… although I’m now terrified of snowmen.
Soon the first snow will come and then he will appear again. And when the snow has gone, he will have taken someone else.
A young boy wakes to find his mother missing. Their house is empty but outside in the garden he sees his mother’s favorite scarf – wrapped around the neck of a snowman. As Harry Hole and his team begin their investigation they discover an alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. When a second woman disappears it seems that Harry’s worst suspicions are confirmed; for the first time in his career Harry finds himself confronted with a serial killer operating on his home turf.
Nesbo is no Stieg Larsson – he is so much better than him. Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It took a little bit longer than the average crime novel to get into, but if you managed to push through the slow start it was worth it. But then came books 2 and 3, and they just felt like sprawling, unwieldy first drafts. And after I read Nora Ephron’s The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut, I could never quite look at Larsson the same way again.
Nesbo’s writing is totally different. There are no clumps of unnecessary description or distracting tech porn; it reads much like the crime novels I’m used to, and most of the time you forget it’s a translation. But yet it doesn’t lose its uniqueness, and a wintry Norway proves wonderfully – or terrifyingly – atmospheric. And where Nesbo really leaves everyone else in the dust is with his plotting.
The plot reminds me of a series of 24, or a set of Russian dolls in reverse: just when it seems like the net is closing in, it bursts open, revealing a far wider and more complicated spider’s web than you thought was there before. With its right angle twists and turns, reading this book is a bit like being on that god awful ride they have in Universal Orlando, the one with two coasters seeming to head straight for it each other only to take off in a different direction at the very last second. And because there’s so many different threads, even if you do have your suspicions about the resolution of one of them, you’ll never guess the others.
And it’s creepy. Lots of books claim to be creepy but really, how many of them actually are? In the opening pages, a young boy discovers someone has built a snowman on the lawn outside his house. How festive, you might be thinking, but this snowman is facing inwards, looking into the house. And when the little boy goes upstairs to his room, it seems as if the snowman’s coal eyes have moved, and he is now looking up at him…
(Ooooh, I just got a little shiver there just thinking about that!)
I highly recommend The Snowman. And the only thing better than discovering a new author you love is discovering one who has four other novels in the same series and a new one coming out in the spring. Hooray for “€4 off” stickers.
(I’m writing this post on Friday 17th December. About an hour before I started it, the first real heavy snow to hit Cork descended, and within half an hour the place was blanketed. My mum came into the room, looked out the window and said, “At least if anyone wants to make a snowman, they can do it now.” ???!!!)