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.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Knife (Harry Hole #12), by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

Jo Nesbø returns with yet another of the Harry Hole novels, as intriguing as it is dark. When Harry wakes from a drunken stupor, covered in blood, he is unsure what’s happened. Could it have been a bar fight gone wrong, or perhaps something a little more dastardly? While he shakes out the cobwebs, there is news on the crime front, when a body is discovered with its neck slit and a massive stab wound in the stomach. Harry learns of this and seeks answers, particularly when he discovers the victim is someone close to him. While Harry is now stuck working cold cases, he continues probing into this active investigation, which turns up an old nemeses. Svein Finne was an early criminal that Harry caught when he was new to the scene, learning the ins and outs of this most notorious criminal mind. Finne, nicknamed ‘The Fiancé’, would choose his female victims and violently rape them, in hopes of making them pregnant. Thereafter, he would threaten to harm the women, should they in any way report him or terminate their pregnancies. Finne served his time and is now out on parole, just in time to strike again. As Harry pieces together the elements of a murder, a woman comes to report a rape that has Finne’s trademarks all over it, but recants and leaves the authorities baffled as to how they might proceed. With fire in his eyes, Harry strikes and tries to secure an arrest, though things fall flat. With little to show for his actions, Harry falls into a deep depression, coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Evidence points that the blood on him was that of the victim, which only furthers his grief. Left despondent, Harry wonders if he would be better off dead, taking matters into his own hands while he is on the lam. In a race for the truth, Harry is a pawn in a larger game, one that could see the bodies pile up as the murderer watches with glee. Nesbø is masterful at spinning this dark web of deception and mystery, perfect for fans of his work. Recommended to all those who love Scandinavian thrillers that pack a punch from the opening sentence.

I have long been a fan of Jo Nesbø and his writing, even though it is much heavier than many of the novels I read. The reader is forced to focus intently in order to ascertain all the nuances found within the narrative. With nothing apparently lost in translation, this Norwegian thriller keeps the reader guessing throughout while showing the depths to which Harry Hole can find himself when things do no go his way. Harry remains a stunning member of the police, though his skills are always in question when drink enters the equation. That being said, Harry seems able to push the haze aside and make something of himself, though this might be the end of his luck, as personal angst acts as a anchor to drag him into the depths of his melancholy. Others around him seek to lighten the mood—or make it darker, depending—and shape the narrative effectively. Nesbø chooses a wonderful cast of characters to portray the themes he has in mind, as well as introducing the reader to one man who has haunted Harry Hole for many years. The plot of the story worked well, keeping me intrigued while also wondering if things would remain gloomy throughout. Nesbø does so well with the darkness and angst-filled stories that I could never tell when I ought to pause, worried I would miss some enlightening aspect. For those not familiar with Harry Hole or many of these Scandinavian noir thrillers, I would recommend walking back to the start of the series, as things definitely need context before popping up here, twelve novels in.

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for keeping my attention throughout and helping me see another side of Harry Hole. I never tire of your work and hope you’ll keep the novels coming.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare), by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jo Nesbø, Hogarth, and Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Contributing to the Hogarth Shakespeare collection, Jo Nesbø has created a modern retelling of the Bard’s Macbeth. Set around 1970, the story opens with a police raid on a local gang running narcotics. When the authorities bungle things exquisitely, leaving blood and bodies scattered around the clubhouse, heads must roll within the police force. During the shake-up, Macbeth is brought on as the new head of Organised Crime, set to turn his men into a respectable arm of the force. Learning of her husband’s new position, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to continue his climb, which is further supported by a high-level crime boss, Hecate. During one of Macbeth’s visits to Hecate, three substance-altered prostitutes foresee Macbeth’s rise to the position of Chief Commissioner, at the top of the entire police force. With a number of officials ahead of him, Macbeth is unsure how he will accomplish this, happy to run Organised Crime for the time being. Lady Macbeth can see a clear path to the top and knows her husband has it in him, if only he will bend the rules to better his chances. She convinces her husband to murder the current Chief Commissioner and frame another official, which he agrees to do while under the influence of narcotics. From there, one murder begets others to cover-up the trail being left. Even when the sought-after position is achieved, neither Macbeth or his wife are satisfied. However, their paranoia force more cover-ups and the need to constantly look over their shoulders. It would seem that power is the most addictive drug of all, one that cannot be sated by a simple snort or needle. Might the rise to power lead to a devastating crash into oblivion? Nesbø weaves quite the tale, using the framework Shakespeare made famous, providing his fans and those who enjoy the Bard’s work quite a great story. Hogarth did well picking Nesbø to explore this dark tale.

Nesbø has quite a dark side when writing for his adult audience, though is also well-versed in creating police thrillers that keep the reader engaged. Some love his writing—as well as the darker side of crime that emerges from the narrative—while others find his work too dense to enjoy, as it is not easily digested. I found myself straddling both camps here, though was able to forge ahead when I gained enough momentum (and time to read!). Macbeth is, of course a central character in the piece and Nesbø does a wonderful job portraying this man as someone who is in touch with his passions, but soon becomes swept up by all the power that is laid at his feet. One can only presume that it is the influence of his power-hungry wife and the influence of narcotics that led him down such a difficult path, one that would be paved in gold, only to reveal tarnished brass by the end of the book. Other characters emerge to support and block Macbeth’s climb to power, adding depth and flavour to the narrative, including those who see Macbeth for the corrupt leader he becomes. The story is strong and ties nicely into the original narrative laid out over four centuries ago. Using the same characters and most of their fates, Nesbø stays true while also modernising the story in an effective manner. Fans of Shakespeare will surely find their own weaknesses, but in an effort to entertain effectively, Nesbø is spot-on with his storytelling. Mixing short and longer chapters, the reader is able to develop a connection to the story and its characters, as long as a steady momentum is kept. As with all Nesbø pieces, the translation does not take away from the power of the message found within and, if anything, provides an even stronger piece.

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for another excellent piece of writing. While your style is an acquired taste, those with the patience for it are surely in for a wonderful adventure.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Thirst (Harry Hole #11), by Jo Nesbø 

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jo Nesbø, and Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The reader can always expect a treat when Harry Hole re-emerges on the written page. Nesbø’s latest novel is no exception. While Nesbø has taken his protagonist on many a wild ride, there is always something sinister and dark that pulls the reader (and the jaded murder detective) back into the mix. As the novel opens, a woman is on a date in a local watering hole, having trusted the swipe-match benefits of Tinder. When things do not go as planned, she returns to her flat, seemingly alone. However, someone lurks in the shadows, attacking her before leaving a dead body with a distinct mark. When Oslo Police begin their investigation, they cannot help but wonder if this mark, along the neck, could have been left by… a vampire? When another body turns up and there are no concrete leads, a familiar name begins being bandied about as a possible lifeline to solving the case. Harry Hole is now an instructor within the Police College, happy to lecture and discuss the former profession that brought him much satisfaction, but also fuelled his worst nightmares and led to his downward spiral into a personal abyss. Agreeing to run a parallel investigation, Hole begins looking into the murders, which hold a very unique and possible fetishistic curiosity. As Hole digs deeper, his recollections of being a part of the police return, more intense than ever, though he also cannot dismiss the angst brought on by certain of his colleagues. When a personal emergency strikes, Hole must find the time to piece of the shattered pieces, which not letting the case disintegrate. A suspect comes to mind and Hole does all he can to bring them to justice, entering a violent confrontation. The evidence is all there, as Hole learns more about the dark world of vampirism. However, with such an open and shut case, questions remain as to whether the hunt for answers and the prime suspect will survive the ‘light of day’. A powerful thriller that steeps a narrative in the usual dark aspects. Nesbø fans will devour this piece and there are sure to be new fans coming out of the woodwork. 

I have long been a fan of the European mystery and thriller genres, specifically those which emerge from the Scandinavian countries. I find that they are not only better crafted, but offer the reader a richer sense of the narrative while filled with dark twists. Nesbø has proven that he not only has a handle on the genre, but that he is able to push his protagonist well past the point of no return. As Harry struggles, the reader follows suit, wishing for some happy outcome, only to be led away from the easy solution. Nesbø tells a dark story, tapping into the still-buzzworthy ‘vampire’ theme, but does not inject that Hollywood flavour, choosing instead to flirt with the obsessive dark side of bloodlust and all things ‘haemo’. While the reader synthesises this, Nesbø pushes past storylines into the present piece and forces the reader to balance multiple tasks. Rich in its character development as well, the reader draws close to some individuals who grace the page, while hoping others will meet their match. I remain in awe of the high calibre of the writing, especially as the story has been translated into English. I have often commented that if the piece can hold strong after it has been linguistically altered, imagine the force behind the original Norwegian presentation.

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø for another impressive novel. I have a die-hard fan and you are still able to push me in directions I could not have seen coming.