Vintage Books, 2010
originally published as Snømannen, 2007
translated by Don Bartlett
The Snowman is Nesbø's fifth book to be translated into English, and once again features Harry Hole, a detective working for Oslo's crime squad. If you want to know more about Harry Hole, the official Jo Nesbo website features Hole's CV, as well as a link to all of the books in the series. The Snowman is a novel of Scandinavian crime fiction, and my cover has a little sticker on it that says "The Next Stieg Larsson," but don't believe it. The two are completely different in terms of their writing styles and subjects. Plus, as I've been known to ask before, who exactly made Stieg Larsson the be all and end all of Scandinavian crime fiction? In my humble opinion, Nesbø is the better writer.
The novel begins in 1980, with a young mother having an afternoon fling at her lover's home. Then flash forward and it's 2004, and a young Jonas Becker wakes up to find that there's no one in the house. His father had gone off to give a lecture in Bergen a day earlier; his mom Birte was there when he went to bed, but now he can't find her anywhere. Deciding to go to the neighbor's house, he notices that the snowman that had been built in his yard (not by anyone in his family) is now wearing the scarf he'd given his mother for Christmas. Hole gets the case, and immediately links it in his mind to an earlier case, still unsolved, where a housewife had gone missing after dropping off her children at a nursery. Then Harry reveals that he had received an anonymous letter two months earlier that said:
Soon the first snow will come. And then he will appear again. The snowman. And when the snow has gone, he will have taken someone else. What you should ask yourself is this: 'Who made the snowman? who makes snowmen? who gave birth to the Murri? For the snowman doesn't know.'
The mention of the Murri, at least in Harry's mind, makes him believe that a serial killer is at work, because the letter makes reference to a serial killer that Hole had once killed in Australia. His colleagues aren't so convinced, because Norway's never had a serial killer, but when another woman turns up missing and another snowman is left behind, it begins to look like Harry was right. The problem is that Hole and the squad have to come up with some link between the missing women that puts them into the killer's sights. The investigation takes on several twists and turns and adds several suspects, until Harry has to finally take a step back from the feeling he's getting that someone is trying to manipulate him in terms of the case, that he is "part of someone's plan." At the same time, Harry's got his hands full -- his apartment is going through mold and fungus abatement and his personal life is in its usual angst-ridden condition. His professional life is right on the edge as his bosses are watching him because of his alcoholism. Rakel is getting ready to be married. And there's a new member of the crime squad, Katrine Bratt, who seems to be a perfect match for Harry until she starts unloading some of the unseen baggage she brought along with her.
The Snowman is definitely one of the biggest nail biters in the Harry Hole series. Not only does the plot have some great twists, but Nesbo spends a great deal of time building up the suspense and getting into the heads of his characters, trying to discover what makes them tick. That may be my favorite part of this series -- Nesbo is great at characterizations throughout all of his novels. There are a few gruesome scenes in the story, but nothing that seasoned crime fiction veterans haven't seen before. It is most definitely an edgy and suspenseful book, one I couldn't put down once I started. I have to confess that I found the ending of the novel to be a bit over the top, but on the other hand, it did fit well with the rest of the story. I also must say that I figured out the "who" before the cops did, but that's okay. The fun is in the getting there, and it was a very wild ride.
I highly suggest that readers who have not yet had the pleasure of reading Nesbø's series start with The Redbreast (not the first in the series, but the first to be translated into English) and move on from there in order. Although The Snowman could be read as a standalone, it's much better read as part of the series, especially because of the ongoing development of the characters. If you don't end up with a "wow" going through your mind as you read through it, let's just say I'll be very surprised.