Although Scandinavian crime writers are mostly viewed as a group, there are distinct regional differences in the texture and mood of their novels. And while Norwegian author Jo Nesbø does provide the same edge and grit that have made his Swedish counterparts Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell so popular, there is a level of intelligence and psychological complexity in his work that makes it stand out in this increasingly crowded field.
The Snowman is the seventh installment in Nesbø's series featuring Det. Harry Hole, but only the fourth to be published in the U.S. However, as with the best series novels, familiarity with the protagonist is not necessary in order to enjoy this one. The story begins with Oslo's first snow of the season. A young boy wakes in the middle of the night to find that his mother has disappeared. In her place is a particularly creepy snowman. It's a pattern that will be repeated in the days to come--more missing women, abandoned children and increasingly gruesome snowmen. The case falls to Harry Hole, a tortured alcoholic (recently on the wagon) who is Norway's only expert on serial killers.
Along with his growing conviction that the killer is manipulating him, Hole must deal with a huge load of personal and professional trials. His ex-girlfriend and love of his life, Rakel, has reentered his life, despite being engaged to another man; his urge to drink is escalating; he is vexed by Katrine Bratt, the alluring but very tightly wound detective assigned to his team; and his apartment is full of mold. As the bodies (and body parts) pile up, so do a veritable North Sea of red herrings. The point of view shifts from Hole to the victims (and the herrings), but no tension is sacrificed in the service of this additional and outstanding psychological shading. In short, The Snowman offers readers all the chill and darkness they have come to love in Scandinavian noir--and then gives just a little bit more.--Debra Ginsberg