“The Snowman” written by Jo Nesbø and translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. “The Snowman” (2010) is the 5th translated book in the Harry Hole series. If you’re looking for something more than just your average police procedural then I highly recommend this author. For those interested, the correct translated reading order for the series is listed at the end of this article. Warning:The following review mentions a few plot points but not all. If you don’t want to read any details outside of the basic premise then please do not read past the break.
In “The Snowman,” Oslo Detective Harry Hole finds himself investigating a serial killer. A serial killer who’s been active since the 1980′s. The year is 2004 and in the U.S. George Walker Bush has won another term in the White House. Demographically, there’s an unusually high number of women reported missing in Oslo. The basic premise of this novel is the same as earlier novels in the series: revenge in its various forms. The villain in here harbors a deep grudge against women of a particular type. All in all, this is a predator’s game and Harry whether he wants to or not has been invited to play.
The story starts off with a missing person case. A wife and mother has been reported missing by her husband and young son. In a meeting with his supervisor at Oslo Police HQ, Harry speculates that the number of women missing in Oslo is higher than usual and wants to assemble a task force to look into it. Deep down, Harry fears that something ominous is taking place here. He’s received an anonymous letter from someone signed “the Snowman.” In the letter, the tone is sinister, hinting that with the first fall of snow in Oslo, terror strikes.
As everyone likes to repeat, serial killers are a U.S. phenomenon but that is no longer the case. In Oslo, Harry is regarded as a serial killer expert because he tracked down one in Australia. Harry along with his new partner, Bergen police officer Katrine Bratt, follow-up on a couple of missing person cases. The only connection they can see is that someone is targeting women with children. Harry and the rest of his team assemble to track down “The Snowman” but find themselves with several false starts which leads them to an action-packed ending.
Who is the Snowman? Like all earlier villains, the perpetrator is hidden from view but we know this individual. The author planted plenty of red herrings to keep us occupied. Nesbø is really good at making you guess and he loves to give his secondary characters depth and motive. The villain proves hard to catch in this case. The only thing the perpetrator leaves behind is a snowman. But every snowman isn’t built the same nor built with the same parts. After reading this book, you’ll never look at a snowman the same way again.
Despite a strong start, “The Snowman” didn’t feel nor read like one of Jo Nesbø’s better efforts to me. When I finished, I had a mixed reaction. The plot felt overly familiar especially the motive of the villain. The background info is heavy-handed as usual but felt like a straight info dump in some spots. In other places the story felt disjointed and thus interrupted the story’s flow. Could this simply be a translation issue? Unsure. All I know is that this story didn’t give me the same satisfaction like the earlier books in the series. Still, “The Snowman” is a good read regardless of my perceived flaws of it.
As for Harry’s personal life, he recently discovered that his apartment walls have mold in them and his on/off again relationship with Rakel gets even more complicated. I’m always surprised at the level of intimacy in crime fiction written by men who do it well. I think Nesbø (and I confirmed this with another reader of the series) can write hot love scenes with the best of them. All you need is the right words to set one’s imagination off and spinning.
Moving forward, Harry still battles with his need for alcohol and still has nightmares about his past. As for work, Harry’s superiors are at turns disgusted with him because of his drinking but feel that they can’t do without him because of his excellent detective skills. Harry is a bit of a social outcast at work. He takes little potshots at his superiors and test out new people. There’s very little that gets by Harry. When you have a case like this one where the perpetrator leaves very little clues with no motive and is scaring the citizens, they all look to Harry to solve this case because no one else does what he does.
I feel that “The Snowman” is the weakest in the Harry Hole series and before you panic or bite my head off about it, let me summarize my grades for the earlier books in this series that I’ve read thus far. “The Redeemer” (A), “The Devil’s Star (A), “Nemesis” (B+) and “The Snowman” would be below those titles with a B. Of course, I seem to be the only one who thinks this story is not one of Nesbo’s better efforts. Reviewer, Maxine from Euro Crime thinks that “The Snowman” is the best of the series so far and who’s to say that it’s not? It wasn’t for me so my grade, B. Missing in this installment but she put in a token appearance: Beate Lønn in forensics .There are a few added new faces. One even went a little crazy. Overall, enjoyable read. B. Looking for to “The Leopard” Jan 2011 in the UK. U.S. release date is unknown and besides, they take too long.
Cover Talk: UK paperback vs. UK Hardcover
Just recently viewed the UK paperback version of “The Snowman” and was disappointed to see a female on the cover. Blah. I much preferred the evil-looking snowman but the marketing people know better than I do about what sells in their own market. What-ever.
Reading order based on Translation
Since the Harry Hole series is released and translated out of order, here is the translated reading order listed below. The first two books in the series are not translated yet but there are plans in place to rectify that. The only titles available in the US at this moment are: “The Redbreast”, “Nemesis” and “The Devil’s Star”. The rest of the titles are available in the UK. All of these titles are available in digital format but at different etailers.
#1 THE REDBREAST
#3 THE DEVIL’S STAR
#4 THE REDEEMER
#5 THE SNOWMAN
Edited to add: Uh, there really aren’t any explicit love scenes in Nesbo’s novels. Just wanted to clarify that. 8/18/10.
Update added 5/22/11: The Snowman is available in the US in hardcover right now!