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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Snowman


At least according to author Jo Nesbo, Norway has had no experience with the modern day serial killer.  But since the star of his seven-book crime fiction series, Detective Harry Hole, is a U.S. trained expert on serial killers, when one does turn up in The Snowman, the ensuing investigation is in good hands.  The Snowman is the Norwegian author’s U.S. debut, and its release in this country seems well timed to take advantage of the current huge popularity of Nordic crime fiction here.  

On the morning of the first snow of winter, a young boy awakes to find himself alone in the house.  His father is away on business, and the only sign of his mother is her favorite winter scarf – which someone has wrapped around the neck of the mysterious snowman that appeared in front of the house during the night.  Detective Harry Hole, lead investigator, has a feeling that this will be no ordinary missing person investigation.  Only weeks before, Harry received a strange letter, almost a challenge, that was signed “The Snowman.”  Now he wonders if the letter and this missing woman are connected.

As Harry and his small investigative team search for clues into the young mother’s disappearance, they uncover past cases in which the only witness seems to have been the large snowman left behind at the scene.  The oldest case goes back to 1980 but, up to now, no one has connected the cases via the icy calling card left behind by the killer in each instance.  Harry, though, is certain they are connected based on what they have in common: each victim was the mother of young children, each crime coincided with the first snow of winter, and a large snowman was present at each crime scene. 

As the bodies pile up, Harry begins to feel that it is all getting too personal, that the killer now known as The Snowman is playing with him and manipulating the investigation.  In what turns out to be a desperate race to save those closest to him, Harry is led around the country and taunted by the killer’s false clues and finger-pointing right until the moment that it all finally makes sense to him- exactly as the Snowman planned it.

The plot of The Snowman will prove to be more than a bit farfetched for some readers, but the book’s well developed characters, even to the minor ones, make up for some of the stretch required by the plot.  But Harry Hole, even as well developed a character as he is, is still predictable in the sense that he has so much in common with other popular fictional detectives from around the world.  Harry is an alcoholic detective struggling to stay sober (not entirely successfully), a loner both in his personal life and on the job, a roots music lover who makes frequent reference to the song he is listening to at the moment, a man who has perhaps let the love of his life slip through his fingers forever.  That description probably sounds familiar – but Nesbo pulls it off as well as anyone.  The Snowman is, in fact, as intricately plotted as any crime novel I have experienced in recent months.  I am, however, looking forward to the American release of earlier, and likely to be more realistic (that is, less spectacular), Harry Hole novels. 

Rated at: 3.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


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