Nemesis

In the fourth installment (second to be published in America) of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, Harry finds himself framed for murder. His ex-girlfriend Anna is found dead in her apartment and Harry was the last one known to be there, but he can’t remember that night because he’s lapsed into his alcoholic tendencies and blacked out. Now Harry must avoid suspicion from his colleagues while tracking down what really happened to Anna and dealing with the mysterious person who keeps emailing him about that night. On top of it all, Harry is investigating a murderous bank robber. Despite not being connected, both cases are thematically linked, as Harry later learns in his attempts to unravel the culprits.

I’ve already praised Nesbo’s crime writing skills (see: Headhunters), and Nemesis just continues to prove it. In this tightly-written thriller, Nesbo delves into psychological behaviors, showing how motives for crimes are not as cut and dry as they may appear. Harry must constantly think outside the box if he hopes to uncover the various conspiracies afoot. One of the biggest conspiracies, concerning the series baddy Tom Waaler, continues to develop from the previous novel Redbreast (I can’t wait to see where this storyline goes in the next book).

If there’s one thing that is immensely frustrating about Nesbo’s writing, it is that he’ll show characters coming to important revelations only to cut away from the scene before we as a reader can either see or comprehend what they’ve discovered. Of course, this tactic merely serves to build suspense and also to make the reader think. So many American crime thrillers spell things out too easily, while some of the more pretentious ones are too oblique. Hence why Nordic and Swedish crime fiction proves to be so entertaining and fascinating to American readers. Plus, Nesbo easily incorporates American pop culture references into his writing like mentioning The Godfather, David Hasselhoff, and Prince (and using those allusions to advance the story).

Next time you’re looking for an excellent crime fiction series to read, dig into the Harry Hole series (start with Redbreast if you’re a completist, or else go straight for his newest novel Phantom). When it comes to Jo Nesbo, you won’t be disappointed.

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Headhunters (2011 Film)

Based on Jo Nesbo’s novel of the same name, Headhunters makes for an equally thrilling film about deception and distrust. Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a corporate headhunter (and part-time art thief) who is unknowingly thrown into a game of manipulation, which results in the death of many. In his attempts to create a perfect life for his wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund)—he’ll do anything for her except give her a child—he finds himself spending above his means and so he steals art and sells it on the black market to make extra money.

When a legendary painting is discovered in the house of his new client, Clas Greve (Game of Thrones’ Jaime Lannister—Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Roger can’t help but attempt to steal it. From that setup alone, you can tell that not all will go well (and it does not). But there is more going on around Roger and the people in his life than he could even have imagined. What’s great about this thriller is that you know something is going to go wrong, but it’s never quite what you expect.

The film almost never strays from the novel, which says more about Nesbo as a writer than about the screenwriters Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg. Nesbo’s tightly written thriller was easy for the screenwriters to adapt into a tightly written script. In the film they do downplay Roger’s obsession with his “perfect” hair, so when he’s forced to shave his head, it comes off as more of a complete emotional breakdown instead of one based on vanity. They also leave out the complex rules for interviewing that Roger is as obsessed with as he is with his hair. Both omissions just allow the film to flow more fluidly.

Just like in the novel, this film never lets up in the action and suspense. Seeing these moments come alive can be truly horrifying however—all the blood especially reminds you how gruesome this story is. The best part about Headhunters is that even if you’ve read it, there are so many twists and turns that you’ll still find surprises when viewing it.

And if, at the end, it feels like the story wraps up into too neat of a box, it’s because that is the only way to wrap up the story threads and provide a satisfying ending for our protagonist. The book does a more believable job wrapping up the story if only because it goes into more specific detail than the film, but the film doesn’t require as much specification for a succinct denouement.

There is just something so satisfying in watching these Scandinavian crime thrillers (see also: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Headhunters (2011 Novel)

Jo Nesbo’s stand alone thriller makes for an interesting tale of deception and distrust. Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter (and part-time art thief) who is unknowingly thrown into a game of manipulation, which results in the death of many. In his attempts to create a perfect life for his wife Diana (he’ll do anything for her except give her a child), he finds himself spending above his means and so he steals art and sells it on the black market to make extra money.

When a legendary painting is discovered in the house of his new client, Clas Greve, Roger can’t help but attempt to steal it. From that setup alone, you can tell that not all will go well (and it does not). But there is more going on around Roger and the people in his life than he could even have imagined. What’s great about this thriller is that you know something is going to go wrong, but it’s never quite what you expect. That’s something that makes Nesbo stand out not just among Nordic crime writers but also among all crime writers.

Nesbo utitlizes a sparse (for lack of a better word) language to spin his yarns. He’s a concise writer who only includes details and descriptions if they’re necessary (even if they don’t seem necessary to you at first). I was easily able to enter into the mind of Roger and follow his logic as he attempts to fix his world that is spirally out of control. And the ending that Nesbo delivers is perfectly orchestrated. I love when a book comes together at the end so perfectly.

If you’re a fan of Stieg Larson’s Millennium Trilogy – the “dragon tattoo” books – then you’ll find much more to enjoy in Nesbo’s writing. From what I’ve read of his Harry Hole series, I find it far more enjoyable (see also: Henning Mankell). And with the film adaptation of Headhunters coming to American cinemas very soon, I’m eager to see how they tackled this thrilling Nordic crime novel.