Friday, July 16, 2010

BOOKS: Nemesis by Jo Nesbø

I railed about Toronto Star Book Critic Jack Batten's over abiding love of Scandinavian detective stories. I found, in my brief sampling of detective books from that region, that they were depressing. The region has a very high suicide rate, contra what to most people think about the bubbly Scandinavian persona in general. And, to be honest, I found Danish writer Peter Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow a bore, both as a book and as a movie.

Welllll, I've been rethinking the whole Scandinavian thing. Like most suspense lovers out there, I have Sweden's Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy in the reading stack, led by international phenom The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (now a VERY DISTURBING movie, about to be remade in the U.S.). And I just finished Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø's Nemesis.

First, let me say that the book is a recommended, if difficult, read. There are natural conclusions at different points in the book. So many, that you almost don't believe he's called it a day with plot twists when you turn over the last page. In fact, Nesbø could have ended the book at the half-way point and it would have been an interesting book, with the conclusion of the bank-robbing Expediter story. Or a little while later with the discovery of who murdered supposed suicide Anna Bethsen. Or, or, or ... you get the idea. By the way, there are truth flaws in each of two sentences in this paragraphs.

Happy reading.

BUT, before you go, let me tell you what I disliked about this book and prompted me several times to consider chucking it all and moving on to lighter fare. (I was considering jokingly referring to Stephen Hawking here, but I really did follow this up with a Jig the Goblin book by Jim C. Hines).

The book is a translation. By a British translator. A skip figures prominently in this book. And I had no idea what it was. Referentially, I came to the conclusion it was some sort of van, a truck, a lorry (I've watched Dempsey and Makepeace). Turns out it's a dumpster. Had to look it up on the internet. And even that wasn't easy. There are more British-isms sprinkled amongst the un-translated Norwegian terms and place names. For example, the translator continued calling the head of the police squad PAS, an acronym for the Norwegian phrase, which is too long to fit onto a single line on a web page. Why not change it to British equivalents, I have no idea? There's fru, froken and herr sprinkled about.

But the real hard part of this book is the names. There's no getting around using place names in and about Oslo. It's set IN Norway fer gawdsakes. But I just couldn't get a handle on the names at all, having immense difficulty telling males and females apart by their names. I'm usually pretty good at that with foreign names, but I was stumped by this country. Admittedly, I have spent time with Swedes and Finns and even a Dane or two. But no Norwegians. Oh, and Nesbø's constant pointing out of regional (it seems more like neighbourhood) accents probably holds resonance with Norwegians. Foreigners? Not so much.

Lastly, I find Harry Hole depressing. He's like Harry Bosch gone to seed, if that's possible. I doubt he has a happy moment in the whole book, even during the Christmas scenes in the final chapter. Even his rookie partner, Beate Lønn seems joyless. About the only smiles in the whole book belong to snake in the grass detective Tom Waaler, who's described as having a David Hasselhoff smile (even one of the chapters is called David Hasselhoff). When the evilest guy in the book is the only one that smiles, it's depressing.

But worth reading.


Wizop said...

I'm a few chapters into the trilogy too. So far so good. I'm also four books into Dewey Lambdin's Alan Lewrie series. In four books Lewrie has advanced quickly in the British Navy, helped win battles but lose the American Revolution, and found a girl in every port.

As for the Norse suicide rate, I remember learning that the bottom line is not all that different from the US murder rate. We get angry and shoot somebody and they get depressed and shoot themselves. Total mortality comes out at the same place.

Gary Mugford said...

An intriguing comparison between the suicide rate in Scandinavia and the murder rate in the U.S. (Which, as I recall, still trails Brazil). Not sure if it's apt. On the other hand, the point I flubbed in trying to make is the international reputation of Scandinavia as a place where bubbly beautiful blondes congregate and live the good (socialized) life. And, indeed, everybody from that part of the world that I've met have been amongst the happiest people I've ever met. I spent some time with the Finnish Women's Hockey team one year and came to admire them greatly. It seems bizarre to me that the suicide rate in the part of the world is so high.

And, of course, suicide is very relevant in Nemesis.