Monday, August 08, 2011

The Snowman a conventional thriller in an unconventional setting

Yes, I've been tardy. No postings for any of the books read during July or August.  So let's change that . . .

Book 76: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

A little neural clutter to dispatch before I can even think about The Snowman.

First, what is it with detectives named Harry? I mean there's Dirty Harry, made famous by craggy Clint Eastwood, and there's Michael Connelly's marvelous Harry Bosch. And now Norwegian author Jo Nesbo gives us Harry Hole.

And, yes, that's the second bit of clutter. "Harry Hole." Hairy Hole! Get it?

I'm having trouble with that one.  I mean Nesbo's fictional detective is every bit the brilliant asshole the genre demands. He has issues with authority, trouble maintaining personal relationships and  is an alcoholic.  But to blatantly name the guy Harry Hole. Can't we let the reader reach his own conclusions.

And then I clock that Nesbo's Norwegian and that the way Hole is pronounced in Norwegian is not the way it is pronounced in English. A little bit of Google magic and we discover that it's pronounced HEU-leh. That I can live with. So, on the book.

I've been late to the party America's given for Scandinavian authors like Nesbo and Stieg Larsson. My attitude is that if I'm not ahead of the curve, I sure as hell don't want to be behind it. Case in point: I have yet to read any book with Harry Potter in the title. (And that's another damn Harry. I think I've known one Harry my entire life, so how do you account for the preponderance of Harrys in literature? I can't.)

The Snowman is creepy, and by any measure that's exactly what a reader is looking for in a Scandinavian thriller. Dark. Moody. Not just cool, but icy.

There's a serial killer on the loose. Harry sees it quickly, but no one believes him. Serial killers, like politicians from Texas, are the unique creation of America.

But Harry's instincts are spot on. A killer is on the loose and his murders -- seemingly unconnected -- are becoming increasingly gruesome.  And, again in keeping with genre conventions, the killer is taunting Harry, issuing that age old invitation to find me before I kill again.

There's plenty of suspects, yet each one is eliminated as we build to the finale in which the killer's true identity is revealed . . . but not before Harry is put the supreme test.

By the time we reach this point in the book the killer's identity is all too apparent. Consequently, in a nice authorial concession, Nesbo reveals the killer and the motives behind his insane spree just as realization dawns for the reader. This clever bit of writing actually serves to ratchet up the tension, because now that we know who the killer really is we also know what's truly at stake. 

The Snowman is a satisfying thriller, but not overly original.  Conventions are honored.  But the Scandinavian overlay makes for an interesting change of pace.  I'll read Nesbo again, if for no other reason then I've gone to the trouble of nailing down the accurate pronunciation of Harry's last name.

Book 77: Rodin’s Debutante by Ward Just

Any book by Ward Just -- even one that falls short as Rodin's Debutante does --  has elements so well constructed, characters so finely drawn, that it's worth reading despite the letdown.

Rodin's Debutante revolves (briefly) around the founder of an exclusive Illinois boy's school and a student at that school who becomes a talented Chicago sculptor. The story never adds up to much, and that's the downfall of this book, which might have benefited from an additional 100 pages.

One of Just's talents is to accurately portray a certain kind of man, to reveal what motivates him and to show us how and why he lives as he does.  Just is also skilled at striking a certain tone, capturing an atmosphere of elegance and restraint, that, in many cases, is as internal as it is external.

The best, and worst, that can be said about Rodin's Debutante is that it is an interesting book. Sadly, it could have been much more.

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