Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø
Published in 2015
Neil Smith Translation
Genre: Scandinavian crime fiction
“The snow was dancing like cotton wool in the light of the street lamps.”
Jo Nesbø sets his 2015 novel, Blood on Snow, in Oslo, Norway circa 1977. Following the events after a contract killer is given a surprising job by his employer, the story dives into the gritty world behind the scenes of the Norwegian city. There is a lot of blood, snow, and questions of credibility as the tale weaves itself in a terminal spiral.
Olav is the protagonist and narrator of the story; he is a “fixer” (hired killer) for the crime boss Daniel Hoffmann. During his short stint as a pimp, he became infatuated with Maria, a girl who works at a supermarket and whom he met when she was forced into prostitution to pay off her junkie boyfriend’s debts. After his inability to keep his feelings in check, he was given the job of fixer and found he was pretty good at it. He describes his dyslexia, difficulty with math, inability to do most other criminal activities well, and his first kill, which was his abusive father who beat him and his mother.
We meet Olav as he is given the task of fixing his boss’s newest wife; she has been cheating on him, so Olav must make it look like a break-in to avoid Hoffmann becoming a suspect. As Olav begins watching Corina (the wife), he begins to fall in love with her from afar, but sees the man she is cheating with hit her and decides that the man must be blackmailing her because she doesn’t appear to be in love. Olav takes it upon himself to kill the lover, but it turns out to have been Hoffmann’s only son. He tells Corina about the hit that was placed on her head and takes her into hiding with him. Olav decides to kill Hoffmann before Hoffmann can kill him, so he goes to his former boss’s competition: the Fisherman. He makes a deal to kill Hoffmann in the morgue while visiting the body of his son, and it is here that I will divulge no further plot details.
Olav is an unreliable narrator; he describes how he enjoys making his own version of the stories that he reads, which he often finds more appealing than what was actually written. Due to his unreliability, there is a twist at the end that suddenly puts everything in a new light. This is definitely a book to reread and look back for clues, which shouldn’t be too discouraging because it is rather short; my copy has large type and 208 pages, but the pace goes quickly and it doesn’t leave anything unnecessary.
I am honestly at a loss as to what to really say about this book; I didn’t think it anything particularly amazing while reading it, and was rather shocked when the twist happens at the end. What I am unsure of is if this twist undoes all of the previous parts of the story in such a way that reveals more of the story in a positive way, or undermines it completely. I did enjoy the action and Nesbø’s writing, but I just can’t give it more than 3 out of 5 because of the uncertainty I am left with. This was my first foray into his fiction, so perhaps I should give another of his books a try.
Verdict: 3 fantasies of fixers out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of crime fiction, those who enjoy being surprised at the end of a book, people who like references to Les Miserables in fiction, and fans of Jo Nesbø’s writing.
Not recommended for: Children, people who dislike Norway, those who think all narrators are reliable, or people who don’t like Scandinavian crime fiction.