Blood On Snow

Anthony McIntyre reviews a novella from Norwegian writer, Jo Nesbo.

This work of Scandicrime by Jo Nesbo comes minus the presence of the inimitable Detective Harry Hole, which might disappoint some regulars. It further differs in that is reasonably short and is told in the first person. Nor does it come with the complexity that invariably accompanies Hole.

This is the second standalone Nesbo book I have read, the first being Headhunters, and neither have disappointed. Nesbo here appears to be in playful or experimental mode, not expending as much intellectual energy in the plot as he would when constructing a work around Harry Hole. While some reviewers have been unkind to it, perhaps for this reason, as a novella it works. It is different not deficient. 

Olav Johansen is the narrator and main character. He is also a hit man - or fixer as he prefers it - for a major Norwegian gangster, Daniel Hoffmann. He stalks the snow-covered streets of Oslo in pursuit of his prey. In the opening pages Johansen stands over a target he has just gunned down. As the victim lies prone, the fixer dispassionately reflects on the impact of blood on snow.

If the plot lacks a complex dimension Johansen compensates by pulling in tandem the callousness of the professional hit man with compassion. When not killing, he likes to read. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables being his favourite literature, despite recalling his father telling him he “was studying to become an idiot!” His discerning observation of a character as “someone who deceives the people she needs to deceive without a guilty conscience in order to follow the money and the power” is applicable right across the societal board.

Meanwhile, the power that Olav Johansen loves is the power of murder. He also loves Corina, his boss's wife whom he is contracted by Hoffmann to fix. Thus, the dilemma begins.

Like the great Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow this work has snow drifting into every groove of it. Atmospherically, it is snow saturation. While Smilla was an expert in snow, had a passion for it, Johansen merely deals with it as most do the weather: its multi-layered molecular of no interest to him.

Some of the characters he has to deal with along the way are best not met at all.  He cites George Elliot in relation to one adversary: "he will never be hurt, he’s made to hurt other people." A lot of people get hurt in Blood On Snow. 

Ultimately, Nesbo was in no need of this book to demonstrate that he was not a one trick pony relying exclusively on a prize pony called Harry Hole.  He had accomplished that much with Headhunter.

The end, when it comes, inspires - against the intellect - empathy with Johansen. It is a denouement so well constructed that when all else is forgotten about this novella, there will remain that sense of snow.

Jo Nesbo, 2016. Blood On Snow. Publisher; Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. ISBN-13: 978-0804172554

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.

Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre        

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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