“Yooo Nez-baugh,” he says, extending his hand.
Pulp star, pop star, unlikely children’s author. The new Scandinavian import of our dizzy American dreams.
The next big thing?
In Oslo, which would look like Ann Arbor, Mich., if you didn’t know better, Nesbo is a household name.
“He is the best crime writer,” the clerk at Grensen Libris bookstore says proudly, skimming her fingers over the rainbow of colorful spines on the Nesbo shelf.
“Harry Hole eats here,” says a customer at Schroder restaurant, an Oslo standard, a classic cod-and-potatoes sort of place.
Harry Hole. The alcoholic hero of Jo Nesbo’s crime novels. (Hole is fictional; his favorite restaurant is real.) The dyspeptic detective who has trudged, world-weary, through eight battles with sadistic criminals in a cold climate. In Norway the books have sold about 2 million copies. This is more impressive when you consider the population of Norway is fewer than 5 million people.
“The series has been,” Nesbo says modestly, “a slow burn.”
Nesbo, 51, is about to begin an American tour, tied to the U.S. release Tuesday of his latest novel. In “The Snowman,” Hole deals with the fact that his ex-love and her son have a new man in their lives. Simultaneously, he chases a killer who targets mothers. The murderer’s method of execution is gruesome; what’s more bloodcurdling are the snowmen he leaves as a warning. Facing into houses. Watching his prey.
“Suspense is the same as humor, I think,” Nesbo says. We’ve moved from his apartment now, bicycled to a nearby cafe where Nesbo likes to write and drink the apple cider made in-house. “You think that you laugh because you’re surprised, but really, the success is that it delivers the punch line a second before the reader reaches the same conclusion. Suspense does that, too.”
“The publishing world has been reading a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction,” says Sonny Mehta, the Knopf editor who acquired “The Snowman.” “He really is being heralded as the new Scandinavian writer.”
Mehta knows something about Scandinavian writers. He was the editor responsible for the Americanization of another Nordic scribe, a dragon-tattooed one named Stieg whose posthumous trilogy about a Swedish cyberpunk finally upended “The Da Vinci Code” as the book everyone reads on planes.
You see the similarities: Scandinavia. Literary crime fiction. “The Snowman” is set against the backdrop of George W. Bush’s presidency, and so Nesbo and Larsson also share a propensity for political commentary. In London, where “The Snowman” has become a bestseller, bookstores lump Nesbo’s novels with Larsson’s, label the whole lot “Scandi-crime,” and lure buyers by affixing deceptive little stickers to Nesbo’s covers: Read this if you like STIEG LARSSON.