On November 19 I went to hear Jo Nesbo speak at the local indie, Politics & Prose. Although there were many seats available, it was packed, with quite a few who stood throughout the presentation.
Beforehand, a Danish reporter asked what I liked about Nesbo – why I thought he was so popular, especially vis-à-vis other Scandinavian authors. Flummoxed by being singled out, I babbled incoherently, and even said something about his looking like a rock star, which had nothing whatsoever to do with why I became addicted to his books. (…but might have been a factor explaining why all the women of a certain age (including me of course) were packing the seats and looking like aged versions of girls reacting to the boy band One Direction.) (And no, fellow bloggers who received my texts of OMG HE IS SO CUTE are not allowed to reveal that fact in the comments!)
Now that I have had a chance to think it over, however, I believe I can give a better answer.
1. I think Nesbo has been blessed with a good translator. I have read other Scandinavian crime fiction in which the dialogue seems stilted and even bizarre. Since these same authors are so popular in Scandinavia, I have to believe it is an artifact of translation.
2. Most other Scandinavian crime fiction writers I have read add two elements to their stories that Nesbo doesn’t: (1) the bleak, cold weather plays a large role; and (2) social and/or political issues are even more salient than the crime.
Nesbo focuses on characterization, and his stories could take place in any setting. Plus, his books are action-packed and often edge-of-your seat thrillers. I love that about him. I prefer to read about social issues and weather in magazines!
3. Last but not least, there is the fantastic protagonist of his long-running crime series (he has authored other, unrelated books as well), and that character is Oslo police detective Harry Hole. (Learn how to pronounce the detective’s name here.) Harry Hole – brilliant and unconventional, is a walking embodiment of existential pain. He has internal demons that beset him constantly (his colleagues think of him as a sullen alcoholic, but there’s more to it than that), and the only distraction he knows is to pursue the external demons who go about in the world and take away the lives of those not ready to give them up. This compulsive, obsessed, hard-boiled, self-destructive loner is irresistibly endearing, and apparently irresistible in other ways too. Harry Hole is someone you want to nurture, beware of, hang out with, benefit from, and be around to find out what he’s going to do next.
But, that’s just my opinion. What do the rest of you think who like Scandinavian crime fiction? Why Nesbo? Or why not?
(The “New York Times” reported “Even the prime minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, is a fan. He once started to recommend Mr. Nesbo’s novel “Redbreast” to the king, until he remembered that the story involved an assassination plot against the Norwegian royal family.”)