Nesbo's Norwegian noir follows Larsson success

AP News
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Posted: May 09, 2011 2:13 PM
Nesbo's Norwegian noir follows Larsson success

Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbo says his success in fields as diverse as literature, music, finance and sports is the result of him being "stupid, brave and lucky."

The 51-year-old Nesbo was a professional soccer player, stock broker and rock musician before he started writing crime novels.

"The Snowman," his fifth book in the series about detective Harry Hole is being released in the U.S. this week, after being a best-seller for three months in Britain, where Nesbo has been compared to another Scandinavian crime writer, the late Stieg Larsson.

But Nesbo (pronounced NESS-buh), who has already sold more than 9 million books globally, doesn't think he has that much in common with the Swede, known for the hugely popular series that started with "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

"I believe Scandinavian crime is connected with quality so in that way, it's OK (to be compared to Larsson), but I feel more related to the American hard-boiled crime tradition, than a Scandinavian tradition," Nesbo said in a phone interview from his home in Oslo.

Critics say the terrifying and action-packed "The Snowman" could mark Nesbo's breakthrough in the U.S., where it's released by Knopf, which also published Larsson's series.

In the novel, inspector Hole (pronounced WHO-leh) hunts a serial killer who murders married women in gruesome ways before cutting them into pieces.

If Larsson's plots are dark, Nesbo's are pitch black, painting an unflattering image of the Norwegian capital, with drug addicts lining gloomy, slush-covered streets.

"There are much darker sides of Oslo than both tourists and people who have lived here for their entire lives see," he said. "It is one of the cities in Europe with the highest rate of deaths by overdoses compared to the number of citizens."

Nevertheless, he concedes adding even more darkness to the city than what is really there.

"I am creating a kind of Gotham City version of Oslo," he said.

Nesbo said he has been inspired mainly by authors such as American pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson, and praised U.S. storytellers including Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Philip Roth and Don DeLillo.

The main character in his books is a skinny alcoholic loner, who wears Dr. Martens boots and listens to Tom Waits, while struggling to maintain a love life alongside his job to catch serial killers.

Nesbo said there was a policeman called Hole in a town he visited during school vacations as a child, but that the name Harry Hole also is a reference to Harry Lime and Holly Martins, the two characters in the British 1949 film noir "The Third Man."

In the movie, Lime and Martins are close friends, although Martins is the good guy and Lime the bad guy. Nesbo merged them into one, dual character in Harry Hole.

In August, the first film about Hole _ based on the book "Headhunters" _ will hit the screens in Europe and an American remake of the movie is in the works. Nesbo has also sold the U.S. and U.K. rights for "The Snowman" to Working Title Films.

Nesbo has an almost unbelievable resume.

Before he published his first book in 1997, he was a promising soccer player in Norway's top division, a stock broker and a vocalist in a rock band that released four acclaimed albums in Norway in the 1990's.

"Since I was little, my attitude has always been: how hard can it really be?" Nesbo said, explaining his eagerness to try just about everything.

Nesbo conceded he's tried a couple of things that didn't turn out so well.

"I was a terrible taxi driver," he said. "I am pretty bad at driving generally and I also worked as a chef on a ship and it turned out I was awfully bad at cooking too."