Blood on Snow is a quirky detour for best-selling author Jo Nesbø.

Image provided by Amazon/Knopf

Taking a break from the Harry Hole Series, Nesbø tells the story of Olav, a solitary “fixer” (i.e. hitman) for a Norwegian mob boss. When his boss presents him with a startling target, Olav finds himself unwilling to carry out the assignment. A couple of bold decisions have Olav facing his own “fixing” and devising a desperate plan that’s not destined to have a happy ending. That only constitutes a spoiler if you’ve never read a Nesbø book before.

Blood on Snow is something of an odd beast. It’s written in first person and can be highly impressionistic, at times even stream-of-consciousness. It’s not plot-focused. Indeed, the spine of the story is pretty direct and uncomplicated. At just over 200 pages in hardcover, it’s also a brisk and fairly economical tale.

Nesbø is more interested in mood and tone than he is in telling the kind of complex mysteries he spins in the Hole novels. He spins Olav as deliberately inscrutable. He may be the narrator, but Olav himself gives the reader multiple reasons not to trust him. Nesbø works in a few twists to keep the proceedings lively, though none of them are exactly shocking.

At its heart, Blood on Snow is a meditation on the dehumanizing nature of violence and a portrait of a lost soul adrift. Readers will develop some sympathy for Olav, to a point. He’s a remorseless killer and emotionally stunted in many ways. But then, Nesbø isn’t really asking readers to like Olav. But by making the plot details secondary to character, Nesbø comes up with something that feels much different from his usual work. It’s almost a commentary on the kind of darkness showcased in the Hole plots.

There’s a dreamy quality to Blood on Snow that makes it hard to pin down. Nesbø provides enough details to set the stage as a gritty Oslo in the late ‘70s, but the action could really occur in a variety of times or places. That kind of timelessness adds to the ethereal feel of the storytelling.

Olav’s journey is a curious one. There’s a fatalistic quality to the character’s slow, inevitable march toward his fate. It’s interesting in its way, even compelling at times. But there’s always just enough of a chill to keep the reader at a remove. That almost seems intentional.

Blood on Snow is worth reading if you’re already in the Nesbø tent, but it’s not the appropriate place to start for a new reader.

Originally published at on August 4, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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