Jo NesboThe night the first snow falls a young boy wakes to find his mother gone. He walks through the silent house, but finds only wet footprints on the stairs. In the garden looms a solitary figure: a snowman bathed in cold moonlight, its black eyes glaring up at the bedroom windows. Round its neck is his mother's pink scarf. Inspector Harry Hole is convinced there is a link between the disappearance and a menacing letter he received some months earlier. As Harry and his team delve into unsolved case files, they discover that an alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. When a second woman disappears Harry's suspicions are confirmed: he is a pawn in a deadly game. For the first time in his career, Harry finds himself confronted with a serial killer operating on his turf, a killer who will drive him to the brink of insanity. A brilliant thriller with a pace that never lets up, "The Snowman" confirms Jo Nesbo's position as an international star of crime fiction.
Make sure you have a baseball bat under the bed before starting to read The Snowman. It is one of the most unnerving novels about a serial killer I have ever read.
Harry Hole is a Norwegian murder squad detective working out of Oslo. He has recently completed a course in America on catching serial killers and this makes him something of a figure of fun back home because Norway doesn’t have serial killers; never has, never will.
And then women start disappearing. All are wives and mothers, and they vanish on the night of the first snowfall of winter. When the bodies are found, they have been horribly and sadistically butchered. But there is something else: the killer always leaves a trademark behind. A snowman. And a part of the murdered woman is included in the effigy: in one of the most horrific scenes in the book, it is the victim’s decapitated head.
But don’t worry, it’s not unremitting goriness. Harry Hole is an immensely likeable, if flawed, character and Jo Nesbo writes fascinatingly about Norway, with some beautiful passages describing the country’s winter snowscapes. Some of the place-names are tongue-twisters, but that just adds to the appeal of the story’s setting. For all the jolting horror as The Snowman unfolds, you’ll finish wanting to visit Norway.
But I doubt you’ll be building any snowmen anywhere this winter.
America is traditionally the home of your typical serial killer, certainly as far as fiction goes. So I was unsure at first if nice, quiet, antiseptic Scandinavia would be the right setting for a story about a warped killer on the loose.
Actually, it works precisely because serial killers are practically unknown there, so there is no world-weariness in Harry Hole’s little team of detectives as they confront the horror of what is happening. They are deeply shocked at the crimes they must investigate, and, to begin with, disbelieving that they are dealing with a home-grown monster.
Jo Nesbo has been compared to Stieg Larsson but I think he’s better, and rather more like Michael Connelly in style. He is at his strongest when he creates a tableau of horror: these are the hinges on which books like The Snowman turn and if they don’t work with complete precision, the story falls apart. Nesbo doesn’t put a foot wrong, and as his story builds so does the tension and fear.
These books have to have a surprise ending and Nesbo provides it. I’m normally quite good at seeing them coming but this one virtually jumped out at me. Over 500 tautly written pages and a slam dunk-finish. Works for me.
Jo Nesbo Meets Richard & Judy
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