Not so ordinary Jo
But alcoholic Harry takes it to a new level, whether he’s prowling the unpronounceable streets of Oslo, or burrowing into the heart of Africa. Outlawed by his colleagues, loved by none but his Down syndrome sister, and the sorrowful Rakel, of whom more later, Harry abandons everyone to hunt down the truth, and the beatings and the bullets along the way. By the end of the last book, The Phantom, he’s so close to death, we don’t know if he has actually made it through.
The New York Times writes that Harry comes “from a long line of Scandinavian crime fiction exposing the dark side of a seemingly ideal society”. Nesbo draws the line as far back as Henrik Ibsen – a major influence on his writing, he says.
“The way his plays are constructed, the truth is revealed bit by bit. At the beginning everything seems normal but there are always dark secrets and the hidden secrets are always about love and greed.” If you want to know more, he says, start with The Wild Duck. And Hedda Gabler.
Nesbo’s English is excellent. He speaks carefully and intelligently and he’s not at all interested in discussing his latest book to hit the shelves, The Bat. That’s because it’s his first book, only recently translated into English.
He had the guts of the story when he got off the plane from Oslo to Sydney, having told his stockbroker employer he needed a six-month break. He’d dreamt up the character of Harry Hole and put him on a plane to Sydney too. Their first stop was a museum where Nesbo became entranced by ancient Aboriginal tales and he wove these through an otherwise grisly tale about prostitutes, transvestites, and a killer with a penchant for long blonde hair.
Back home in Oslo, he handed in his notice and sat at home with his laptop till the book was complete, describing those weeks as the happiest of his life. Then he submitted it to a publisher under an assumed name. In those days, Jo Nesbo was best known as part of Di Derre (translated as Those Guys), the pop group he shared with his brother Knut.
The book was an instant hit, winning the glass key award for best Nordic crime novel, an accolade shared with Peter Hoeg, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. And the awards have been pouring in ever since, though a Golden Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association has been strangely elusive. The reason for this trip to London was to attend the Dagger Awards. He’s been nominated for one four times, but was passed over yet again this year, for The Phantom in the International category, with Gene Kerrigan taking the top prize for his Dublin-based thriller The Rage.