The Kingdom, by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

Jo Nesbø is back with a new standalone thriller that has the reader thinking from the outset. A tale that binds two brothers with a sordid past, Nesbø creates a great backstory and development throughout The Kingdom, though it is up to the reader to determine who rules and where the subservient will find themselves at various points in the narrative. Dark and complex, like much of his past writing, Nesbø offers a great piece for those who are patient enough to peel back the layers of this story. Recommended to fans of the author, as well as those who fancy some Scandinavian noir in their reading diet.

Roy and Carl Opgard live in rural Norway, a place called ‘The Kingdom’ by their father. When the Opgard parents die, Carl takes his leave and flees across the Atlantic, ending up in North America to make a name for himself and leave the family name behind. Roy stays behind and revels in how to define himself, surrounded by the people and scenery he’s known his entire life.

When Carl returns years later, he brings with him a successful wife and plans to revive the small community with a major hotel, aptly named ‘Kingdom’. While Roy is not entirely sure how to process all of this, Carl and his wife, Shannon, speak fondly of the venture and hope to win over the locals. Some appear eager to breathe new life into the community, while others are skeptical, knowing the Opgards and the stories that surround them.

As the story progresses, Roy reveals much about their past, including abuse and treachery that the family sought to hide. There are crimes and other vagrancies that Roy and Carl hope never see the light of day, though they are all whispers on the lips of the locals. The Opgards are no strangers to struggle and self-protection, something that will resurface throughout this intense story.

As Roy finds himself drawn to his brother’s wife, the biblical parallels to Cain and Abel cannot be dismissed by the reader. Struggles with the outside world and from within take over the narrative until a final act seals the fate of all involved. Nesbø uses his mastery of the plot twist to keep the reader guessing throughout, saving his most explosive reveal for the latter stages of the story. Roy and Carl may have drifted apart, but their blood bond cannot be dismissed.

A longtime fan of Jo Nesbø, I was eager to get my hands on this one. I admit, I was not paying attention when I picked it up and was expecting a new instalment of the Harry Hole series, though things soon proved to shake me from my reverie. Instead, this is a complex standalone novel that pulls on themes of family, abuse, deception, and betrayal. Jo Nesbø uses his mastery of language (I am still baffled every time I read one of his books that it was not penned in English, as the flow is not lost in translation) to tell a story that will impact all readers, however differently.

Roy and Carl prove to be highly intriguing joint-protagonists. Their similar upbringing binds them and the time apart enriches their personalities as well as the connection they share. Both have suffered in the past, though are not willing to roll over and accept defeat. Rather, they use these experiences to grow and become greater men. Each has a personality that provides a needed uniqueness, though the backstory of abuse at the hands of a horrid father serves to connect them, as they envelop themselves in the secrets of their childhood.

Nesbø develops wonderful supporting characters throughout his piece, playing on the complementing role that these individuals usually play in stories. There are some who exact new narratives through their dialogue, while others serve only to steer things in a pre-ordained direction. The reader may latch onto some of them and discard others, but that is true nature of the beast in such a complex story that has so many twists.

While Jo Nesbø’s writing is not for the impatient reader, there are gems within the narrative that make it a wholesome and well-crafted thriller. As others have said, this book took some time to get moving, though once it did, there was no stopping the action and revelations. The narrative begins darkly and never seems to crawl out of that hole, though Nesbø does so well at keeping things intriguing without providing much happiness throughout. Chapters slowly progress, but never lag, and the plot gets better the more time the reader permits. This is certainly not for someone seeking a quick story to tide them over. Rather, it forces the reader to look at the underbelly of family life usually hidden behind well-hung curtains and hushed at the front door!

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for another chilling thriller. I love how seamlessly your writing flows, without getting too uplifting.

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