A full house of very enthusiastic readers showed up to hear Norwegian author Jo Nesbo talk about his newest book, The Snowman. I'm not a big crime fiction fan, and I have not read any of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series of books (I know, I'm the only one), but I read his book The Devil's Star, and found it a crackling good story.
The events coordinator for the store introduced Nesbo by saying that "I promised I wouldn't butcher his name, but I wanted to give my Norwegian a try- ladies and gentlemen, Jo Nesbo", which elicited laughter from the audience. Then he actually did try his Norwegian, calling him "Hu Nesba".
Nesbo took the stage, and he is strikingly handsome, sort of a cross between Viggo Mortenson and Ed Harris. He has a quiet intensity, and spoke of his father, who spent time in New York City.
The Snowman is the only novel he has written that began with the title. He has a friend who needed a title for his movie, and Nesbo came up with The Snowman. Unfortunately, there was no snowman in the movie, so Nesbo kept the title for his book. He liked the idea of a cozy, childlike image of a snowman and using it in a different context, as something sinister.
In an early scene in the book, a mom sees a snowman in the yard and senses something is wrong; the snowman is facing the house, not the street. He knew it was a good scene, and it became the basis of the book.
He talked about the hero of this series of books, Harry Hole, a good policeman and a bad alcoholic. The character is many-faceted, and well drawn. When someone asked "who does Harry look like?", Nesbo pointed to himself and said "me." He sees Hole being played in the movies by Nick Nolte, someone he called "ugly/pretty", but Nolte is too old. (I say Viggo would be great.)
Nesbo answered questions, many of which concerned the sequence of the books released in the United States, which differs from the sequence they were written and released in Norway. I have to admit to being a little lost during this discussion, as there were some definite major-league fans in attendance.
He spoke of the difficulties in having the books translated into English; he laughingly says it is difficult to trust the translators. He doesn't read his books in English, he says that it is "inevitable that it will get lost in translation" and it leads to frustration for him. He did say that when the books are translated into Korean, they are translated from Nowegian to English to Korean, because it is too hard to go directly from Norwegian to Korean. Not too many people speak both of those languages.
Someone asked why so many Scandinavian protagonists have alcohol problems, and Nesbo said that it is a tradition, the "hard-boiled detective". Harry is a alcoholic who sometimes can't function, it is his Achilles heel, and he uses it to make Harry more interesting. I like that Harry is not a "pretty alcoholic"; he vomits into the sink at work, drags himself home from a bender- realistic, ugly things.
His favorite author is Knut Hamsun, who although he was controversial for his support of the Nazis during the war, Nesbo said that "we're all (writers) standing on his shoulders in Norway".
A question was asked about the corruption theme that seems common in Scandinavian crime fiction, but Nesbo said that Noway is one of the least corrupt countries. It is a literary device, not representative of Norway.
Nesbo plays in rock bands, and he started writing poems and lyrics at age 14. His first novel was written at age 37. His dad was an inspiration for him; his dad always wanted to write a book about his WWII adventures, but he died before he could do it. Nesbo quit his job as a stockbroker and started writing.
I think Nesbo will be a big deal in crime fiction; his characters, even the minor ones, are all well drawn, and his plots are well thought-out and interesting. The ardor of the crowd was impressive; he already has an enthusiastic base of fans, many who had all of his series of books ready for his signature.