Review of “The Snowman” by Jo Nesbo

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.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Vintage Books, 2007

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19 Responses to Review of “The Snowman” by Jo Nesbo

  1. I love your thrill ride explanation of the writing. This looks really compelling. Great stuff!

  2. JoAnn says:

    You’ve convinced me that I really need to give this author a try. Love the cover, too!

  3. Sandy says:

    So I’m going to have messed up hair, just like I did with Joe Hill? Cool. Well I already deemed you and Ti the evil twins, because I do have two of Nesbo’s books on my shelves, earmarked for my Poland trip. I really really can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and have at him.

  4. zibilee says:

    I have been seeing a lot of ads all over the place for the Harry Hole books, but admit that I was waiting for a review to see what I might make of them. This is not my preferred genre, but I will take a chance on a book that sounds good, and this one definitely sounds like it might be right for me. I especially like that even though you knew who the murderer was, you still found the story interesting and compelling. Great review! I am off to check out the other half!

  5. Barbara says:

    Love a roller coaster ride in a book – not for real since those rides make me sick. This series sounds very good.

  6. BermudaOnion says:

    I love books like this! I have The Devil’s Star and can’t wait to read it.

  7. Steph says:

    I haven’t had the best of luck with these Swedish crime writers, but I’ve heard enough good things about this author that I feel I should try him before I officially write of this corner of the book world!

  8. Margot says:

    I like your roller coaster analogy. However, since those things scare me to death, I’m not so sure. (LOL) I remember your previous review and knew you were anticipating this one. I’m glad it gave you so much enjoyment.

  9. Ti says:

    Ok…let’s cast the movie which hasn’t been announced yet because you know someone will make it into a movie.

    I spoke too soon:

    http://collider.com/the-snowman-novel-adapt-working-title-films/54704/

    So who will play Harry?? Harry is a young guy (30 ish) although he plays much older. Who do you think would be good? I try to stick Robert Downey Jr. into everything so someone like him would be good. Although he’s being discussed for the Hunger Games at the moment.

    Again I spoke to soon. I just looked it up and Woody Harrelson will play Haymitch so that frees up Robert!

  10. Like I told Ti, this isn’t my genre. But this does sound like a good series. I must not be cool enough to get into the whole Scandinavian thing.

  11. Julie P. says:

    I absolutely loved THE DEVIL’S STAR and want to get my hands on everything Nesbo has written Loved his writing and characters.

  12. I still have this one to read…it’s waiting patiently for me so I really only looked at your rating!! I am loving this author.

  13. Jenners says:

    I just read Ti’s review so I had to come and read yours. You guys are getting me so excited to read this. But I bet it was painful to you to read the series out of order!!!

  14. I love you and Book Chatter doing twin reviews, it’s so sweet and fun- and both reviews were great and made me supes-curious about this Nesbo character…

  15. Marie says:

    I think I’m going to do thrillers for my August theme and finally get around to some Nesbo. I don’t have this one but I have another of his- they all look so good!

  16. Trisha says:

    That is one seriously creepy cover. Love it!

  17. Ceri says:

    Every time I read a review of a crime/mystery book on your site, I always think to myself, ‘Damn, I should read more crime.’ I enjoy them so much when I read them but, for some reason, never actually go to the crime/mystery section and pick one up.

  18. Lisa says:

    Wow — this one sounds a great as the last one you reviewed. And, if I’m recalling correctly, it would be loving to periodically flip to the author piece and gaze at Nesbo.

  19. Lisa says:

    I loved The Devil’s Star. I have this and The Nemesis on the shelf, waiting for an opening in the queue. Great review.

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