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Blood on Snow


Blood on Snow

What a dark, delightful and unexpected surprise this is. BLOOD ON SNOW is a new stand-alone work from Jo Nesbø (featuring a spot-on translation by Neil Smith), which seems designed to be read in one sitting and from its first paragraph demands it. It is American noir filtered through the dark glass of his Norwegian heritage. Nesbø may or may not have written better novels --- his Harry Hole series maintains an honored place on my bookcase, a collective example of how the writing of dark detective fiction is properly done --- but his latest may be my long-term, all-time favorite of his works.

BLOOD ON SNOW (the title is explained in the book’s opening paragraph) is narrated by a brutally effective fixer named Olav, who is in the employ of Daniel Hoffman, one of Oslo’s most successful crime bosses. As one might expect from a Nesbø work, Olav is complicated, full of emotions that might seem contradictory but ultimately mesh. Still, that does not mean that they peacefully co-exist or balance within him. While he can carry out an assignment with some detachment, he is also capable of displays of deep and true love. Or at least something like it.

"BLOOD ON SNOW has the added strength of being a short work, almost a novella really.... Regardless of its number of pages, this is powerful stuff from an author who never disappoints."

Think on this: Olav rides public transportation daily simply for the quiet and secret joy of standing next to the same woman on each trip. She has no idea who he is, but he has concocted an elaborate imaginative scenario in which they become involved and vacation together. Yes, Nesbø takes this a step too far beyond fleeting infatuation --- we’re definitely passing stalking and rounding the corner obsession --- yet there is something about it all that makes the reader hope that Olav and the woman somehow find a “nice” way to connect and take that holiday together, even if we don’t think it’s going to happen.

The likelihood of any sort of vacation for Olav, other than a dirt nap, becomes remote when he uncharacteristically botches an assignment from Hoffman that involves some wet work in a matter that is very personal to the boss. Maybe “botch” isn’t the right word; Olav finds out that Hoffman’s reasons for ordering the hit on a certain someone are based on incorrect premises and decides to stray from his orders. The results for him are disastrous; he suddenly has a number of people terribly upset with him and in desperation seeks to cut a deal with an extremely unlikely ally, possibly ill-chosen. As is evident from first page to last, there are layers and depths to Olav that are revealed slowly but no less effectively as the story progresses, and the narrative cracks and hums like a third rail.

BLOOD ON SNOW has the added strength of being a short work, almost a novella really. Accordingly, those who may have eschewed sampling Nesbø’s prior wares due to their somewhat intimidating length will have no such obstacle in front of them here. Regardless of its number of pages, this is powerful stuff from an author who never disappoints. You’ll read it too quickly and wish that it was twice as long. But then, well, there’s that backlist.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 10, 2015

Blood on Snow
by Jo Nesbø

  • Publication Date: January 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
  • ISBN-10: 0804172552
  • ISBN-13: 9780804172554