Not so ordinary Jo
INTERVIEW:He’s been a footballer, a stockbroker, and a pop star. Now, with his books translated into more than 40 languages and sales of more than 14 million, he’s the king of Nordic crime writing. ORNA MULCAHYmeets Jo Nesbo
Jo Nesbo is tucked into a corner of the dining room at the posh Langham hotel in London, but it’s hard to miss him with his Lucozade-coloured shades. His is not a face you forget from the book covers. “Like a cross between Sting and Daniel Craig”, says one lady literary agent who would dearly love to have him on her crime list.
The Norwegian writer, a rock-climber in his spare time, has sold more than 14 million books and Martin Scorsese wants to make a film of his 2007 novel The Snowman. But who’s to say he’s at the top of his game just yet? Before dashing off his first Harry Hole novel, The Bat (conceived on a 30-hour flight to Australia back in the 1997), he was one of Norway’s biggest pop stars, while at the same time holding down a day job as a stockbroker. As a teenager, he played professional football.
Now 52, he looks 10 years younger, and the rather icy blonde woman beside him at breakfast looks a lot younger still. She leaves without a hello or goodbye as I arrive. The lady manager hovers: “Would Mr Nesbo like more coffee, more croissants, more anything?” A woman at the next table leans in a little closer.
Nesbo does have that effect on women, though God knows he treats them terribly in his books. Harry Hole, his brilliant, self-destructive detective, is a disaster zone where women are concerned, his ex-girlfriend is dead, his cop partner murdered, the love of his life pursued by a serial killer. His killers are hideously inventive, like the one who stalks unfaithful wives with an electric noose designed to decapitate animals.
Immediately, I want to get my credentials straight as a fan who’s been reading him for years, way back when everyone was talking about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, when, clearly, Nesbo’s Oslo trilogy, Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star, were far more exciting and extreme. Harry Hole (pronounced Hool-eh if you want to be correct) follows a long tradition of tormented, terrier-style detectives constantly on the verge of being fired. Men with hatchet-faced good looks who drink but don’t eat in their bleak apartments. Who are surrounded by clowns and criminals. Who are compassionate as well as cruel. There are shades of Martin Beck, the grand-daddy of Scandinavian detectives created by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö in the 1960s. There are similarities, too, with Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko of Gorky Park, and with Ian Rankin’s Rebus.