Sunday, February 03, 2013

I review Nesbø in the Philadelphia Inquirer

The novel is Phantom, ninth of Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole novels, and my review begins thus:
"I once suggested that some Nordic crime novels are Jackie Collins or Harold Robbins with enough mildly leftist musing thrown in to make readers feel intellectually respectable."
More than in my previous reviews, I write about why I think Nesbø made some of the choices he made. The man has a living to make, after all.

Read my guesses about Phantom, Nesbø, Nordic crime, and why readers read it in the complete review here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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29 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Nice review. I have met him, but still have yet to read him.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

See above. But your point about 'Therein lies the risk of the series form, centered on one character, in hard-boiled and noir fiction: How many perils can the author put his protagonist through before the whole thing starts to seem like a soap opera?' is a good one, unless its part of what readers expect (some have more tolerance for minor variations on a repetitive theme than others.) But like you say, he has to make a living...

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: Thanks. This review was a bit of an eye-opener for me to write because Nesbø is good but not one of my must-read writers. That meant I could just write, "Boy, he's great." I had to think about and analyze the book, figure out why Nesbø did certain things the way he did.

If you decide to read Nesbø, make sure you read Devil's Star before Redbreast.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger verymessi said...

Hi Peter,

Good review. I like Nesbo but have not read past The Devil Star which was good but a bit too similar to other books. But still I really liked it. I think the Redbreast is his best book. I have not read the Snowman or others. I'll go see the movie!!

Sometime I just don't have the time or will power to get into a book over a say 300 pages and Nesbo's all seem to get way up there in the page count!!

But overall I have enjoyed the books I have read of his-even Head Hunters!

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dave: One of the things I liked about Donald Westlake/Richard Stark was his willingness to try new things. Parker was a loner against the world. Then he was a loner against the mob. Then he the centerpiece of heists. And once Stark fell into that groove, he'd shake it up by having Parker spend an entire book being hunted down in a shuttered amusement park or an entire chapter talking, when he was normally a man of few words.

Nesbø did say when I interviewed him that he liked Hemingway, Bukowski, and Scandinavian non-crime authors. Perhaps to be fair to him, then, one ought to judge him with those models in mind. I'm weak on Scandinavian non-crime writing of the last 650 or so years, but I could easily detect Bukowski influence on Harry Hole, if I decided to look for it.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: Make that "...Redbreast before Devil's Star." Read those books in the order of their original publication, not in order of their English translation.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

VM: Thanks. Redbreast has the best political jokes, but Devil's Star has the best climactic scene, I think.

I'm curious about the Nesbø novel most recently available in English--I think under the title The Bat--because it's the first Harry Hole novel, and everyone loves origin stories. I, too, sometimes have trouble with crime novels that approach Nesbø's length of around 450 pages.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dave: Given what I wrote about Nesbø 's influences in my previous reply to you, I could still say that he incorporates any number of interesting literary influences--but still throws in the swipes at xenophobia that readers want.

February 04, 2013  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I don't think we have any idea who will stand the test of time. I think we are likely to be more impressed with our contemporaries than we maybe should be because they have enlightened us a little about the current moment, which we tend to understand better than anything larger or older.

Seana, Peter,

Gazing into my crystal ball, I think I can predict with some degree of certainty that Jo Nesbø will fall into this category. That is, his novels will not be read 10-20 years from their publication dates.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Who can tell who'll be read in ten or twenty years, especially in popular fiction? Any number of writers writing now could still be writing then, of course. I'd say that from my end of the crime spectrum, some of Ken Bruen's work could last a while.

February 04, 2013  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

some of Ken Bruen's work could last a while

Very probably. And for reasons that don't apply to Nesbø. When I think of (crime fiction) novels that were popular 10-20 years ago, and are not popular now, some bear direct comparison with Nesbø (or vice versa).

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was thinking that Bruen is regarded as a trailblazer in some ways, for Irish crime writing, for acknowledging the debt said crime writing owes to American predecessors, and so on. I suspect that many younger writers of hardboiled crime fiction and noir regard him as a father figure.

Outside of the Nordic countries, at least, I don't think Nesbø is regarded that way.

I wonder if big-selling crime books of the past have tended to be as thick as those of Stieg Larsson and his followers. Will Larsson's influence extend beyond high page counts and copycat cover designs?

February 04, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

There are at least two kinds of writers. One kind of writer seeks to sell books and must conform to the market's expectations. A second kind of writer answers to a higher calling--that ineffable muse--and may or may not sell books. From what you have written about Nesbo's books, I think I will take a pass because he sounds too much like the former category of writer. That kind of conformity is not always wrong, but it can lead to banal, pointless writing. Then, when you add the protagonist's name--Harry Hole--I take a no-thanks-attitude. Yeah, I know that name has Scandinavian roots, but you have to admit that it is a bit over the top.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Harry HEU-leh, you mean, though you might have something when it comes to his first name. There's a link somewhere here to my interview with the Nesbo. See what he has to say about the name "Harry."

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

Whether a writer lasts will always depend upon the needs of the reader. Familiarity breeds contempt in some, and gratification in others. My guess is that when people go back in time to read writers of previous generations, they look for someone who was doing something different rather than someone who's doing the same as the current crop of writers.

That's interesting about Bukowski being an influence, and I suppose a clever choice for a crime hero, CB encapsulating many of the traits of the traditional crime hero, only amplified (and with an accent on the tragi-comedy of his situation.)

February 04, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Nice review and a very neat dissection of a book that I quite enjoyed.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dave: My guess about Ken Bruen is as close as I've come to predicting the durability of any crime writer's work. Dashiell Hammett was obviously doing something different from his contemporaries, but his contmeporaries recognized this. I wonder if there is a comparable figure in any other branch of popular fiction.

I believe Nesbo on Charles Bukowski, especially in the earlier books, where, in among everything else in thos fat novels, Harry gets deep into low life.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Adrian. I enjoyed this one more the more I thought about it and analyzed it.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I like to think I may have been right about Nesbo tossing readers a mischievous bone int he form of that pathetic xenophobic character.

He used to be a musician. You look at him, and you think he'd have liked punk. But he said he also likes sappy pop music. So maybe he has a way of defying expectations just a bit in his books and out.

February 04, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Peter, thanks for the correction, because I have both books and I was surprised to see I should I read Devil's Star first. So I won't.

Having been shall we say exposed to Nesbo, or really the other way around, I didn't get the impression of someone just out there on the make. Despite his cool status, he seemed a fairly internal person, which is always best in a writer.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, the books were translated out of order. Devil's Star includes a highly effective, dramatic scene in which a character dies. I was surprised when I then picked up Redbreast, next to be published in English, and found that character alive and well. The experience was momentarily jarring, but I recovered.

I don't know Nesbo or his career well enough to be able to judge what motivates him to write the kinds of stories he writes. And he remained fully dressed throughout our interview, though the interview did take place in a bookstore, where he has been known to doff his shirt. I therefore may have missed some essential aspect of his personality.

But I see no reason to doubt that commercial considerations play some part, as I expect they would with any writer. That xenophobic character (who plays a very small role in the novel) may be such a consideration, Nesbo making the character a joke to at least get some fun out of him. Alternately, so blatantly taking the piss out of the character may be Nesbo's own attack on xenophobia.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I've been making a bit of a commitment to finally getting around to books in my TBR piles, so I will definitely try to get to one of Nesbo's soon.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll have to stop talking about TBR piles and replace it with something more appropriate, perhaps TBR mountain ranges or TBR self-storage facilities or TBR small cities..

Having said what I did about reading Nesbo in order, that dramatic scene I mentioned in Devil's Star is worth reading. Then again, so is the introduction to Harry in this book.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes, piles makes it sound like something I could actually get control of. But having done a little rummaging the other night, I was able to find two books that I have been wanting to get to for awhile, and both crime fiction or mysteries. John McFetrige's Swap, and S. J. Parris's Prophecy. I've read and enjoyed both author's before so I knew I would like these books once I got to them, and I do.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You rummage. I excavate.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

It paints the picture slightly better, though, to say that I was actually trying, unsuccessfully, to find my keys.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is not good. I always leave my keys in one place. But I have misplaced articles of clothing amid the books. And vice versa.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yeah, you find lots o great stuff once you drill down a little.

Unfortunately not ususally what you were looking for.

February 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ooh! Drill down!

Last night I was thinking it might be time to look for a book of Emerson's essays that I have lying around somewhere, I think because Robert Musil mentions Emerson either in The Man Without Qualities or in one of his own essays. I sometimes retain a vestigal topographic memory of a book's approximate location, but I'm not sure that will work this time.

February 05, 2013  

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