The Snowman is the 5th book to be translated from Norwegian in the Detective Inspector Harry Hole series.
Jo Nesbo’s Norwegian police procedurals are hard to describe. On the surface, they’re incredibly formulaic, and in this one, I figured out who the murderer was 173 pages before the end. But did this stop me from feeling as if I were on a wild ride from start to finish? No way! Nesbo is very good at creating suspense, and I love the persona of his detective, Inspector Harry Hole.
Nesbo writes the kind of book that leads me to go back and re-read parts, because I race through much too fast to find out what will happen so I can get my heart out of my throat.
Harry Hole is a forty-year-old inspector with the crime squad of the Oslo Police Headquarters. Other officers regard Harry as “a self-willed, arrogant, argumentative, unstable alcoholic.” He himself agrees he has a “difficult temperament” and is a lone wolf. We, the readers, however, know Harry to be more than that: not only does he have exceptional powers of analysis and intuition, but he is a thoughtful, good, and passionate man in the grip of boundless fears and obsessions against which he must constantly struggle. He is not only addicted to alcohol, but to the thrill that comes when he gets close to solving a murder case:
“Harry could feel the adrenaline rush, the trembling that always came when he got first scent of the brute. And after the rush came to Great Obsession. Which was everything at once: love and intoxication, blindness and clear-sightedness, meaning and madness. …it helped him, drove him, fueled the job he was appointed to perform.”
He has a moral decency that most of his colleagues don’t acknowledge, focused as they are on Harry’s tendency to plunge into the abyss from time to time. And he blames himself and takes it hard when a murder is committed; he feels it could have been prevented if only he had been better at doing his job.
Currently, Hole is struggling to accept the new relationship of his ex-girlfriend Rakel, who is seeing a doctor, Mathias Lund-Helgesen, a friendly man who seems to be the polar opposite of Harry. Rakel’s son Oleg still thinks of Harry as his “dad” so Rakel encourages Harry to do activities with him. Harry has a gentle affection for Oleg that adds a very warm and touching element to the story. But seeing Oleg just keeps Rakel in Harry’s life and makes it more difficult for him to get over her.
At work, Harry is investigating a spate of missing women. There is always a rather frightening looking snowman left at the scene of the [presumed] crime. His team includes a new (and attractive) officer, Katrine Bratt, who was previously at the Bergen Police HQ; a repulsive sexist who is however a good police officer, Magnus Skarre; and the quirky but talented Bjorn Holm from the Forensics Unit. Harry chases down one possibility after another with no luck. The bodies keep piling up, and Harry himself is in extreme danger.
Evaluation: This author is so good! Opening one of his books is like strapping into a roller coaster and starting that long climb up the steep hill. And then whoosh – off you go racing up and down in the flimsy cars that toss you about, and you want to close your eyes but you can’t because you might miss something, and you’re very scared but you’re loving every minute of it!
And for those of you who are into psychological explorations, Harry Hole has enough existential angst for the biggest fans of depth and gravitas in a mystery. Questions about life and death? Harry is pondering them all the time, just before succumbing to the bottle after a particularly unappealing answer…. But when he’s not morose and gloomy, he’s occasionally warm, often sexy, and always intellectually exciting. Can’t help lovin’ that man.
Published by Vintage Books, 2007