The Snowman is the seventh book in the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, and the fifth to be smoothly and superbly translated into English by Don Bartlett.
The book is based on a theme, mother and son return to their home, where the husband is making dinner in the kitchen. It is a happy family scene and while the snow is falling outside it is warm and cosy inside. The son thanks the father for making the snowman, but he knows nothing about it, and then they realise that the snowman is staring back into the house.
A woman goes missing and her pink scarf is left round the neck of a snowman looking back towards the bedroom windows.
'She would never have given her favourite scarf to the snowman.'
'Then it must have been your dad.'
'No, someone did it after he'd left. Last night. The person who took Mum.
Harry nodded slowly. 'Who made the snowman, Jonas?'
'I don't know.'
Harry looked through the window to the garden. This was the reason he had come. An ice-cold draught seemed to run through the wall and the room.
Then a second woman goes missing and when it is confirmed she is dead another snowman is involved......
Harry Hole believes there is a connection with a menacing letter he received some months earlier, and then he discovers after delving through the unsolved case files a number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. He believes there is a serial killer operating in Norway.
So while Kripos under Espen Lepsik are designated to do the routine and usually boringly unproductive police work he forms an elite squad of four to track down the Snowman. As well as himself the squad consists of forensic expert Bjorn Holm, the rather unpleasant Magnus Skarre, and the attractive policewoman Katrine Bratt, who has transferred from rainy Bergen.
Harry and Katrine follow an old trail that leads to rainy Bergen, and a case involving a renowned policeman who disappeared twelve years before. Back in Oslo, a very discreet plastic surgery clinic and a wealthy Oslo businessman may hold the solution.
Harry's task is complicated by the death throws of his relationship with Rakel, who will soon marry her new boyfriend, but can't make a clean break with Harry because of her son Oleg's close friendship with the detective.
The Harry Hole books have always had strong plots and well drawn characters and Harry's new partner Katrine Bratt is no exception.
....this guy [Harry] seemed more like one of the dopeheads hanging round the streets than a policeman. And the girl [Katrine] behind him didn't look like a policewoman, either. True she had that hard look, the whore look, but the rest of her was lady, all lady. If she had got herself a pimp who didn't rob her, she could have earned five times her wage, at least.
Harry may well be arrogant, anti-authority, unstable and an alcoholic, but he is vulnerable and almost innocent in some situations. That is what makes him such an interesting character and makes readers care about him.
The Snowman has a narrative that drives the story forward relentlessly and you find yourself having read 400 plus pages in a very short period of time. The downside of this is the long wait for another Jo Nesbo to be translated and published in English. The Snowman is beautifully scary with the tinge of a horror story mixed in with the superb police procedural thriller.
Jo Nesbo has already created a fine body of work that must place him among the best crime writers of this and any age. His books, despite the modern references to DNA and mobile phones, are with their multiple suspects, red herrings, plot twists and turns, and subsequent dead ends are almost a tribute to the detective fiction of the past.
Summing up The Snowman is one of the most exciting, stimulating, brain teasing crime novels I have ever read with a great plot, fascinating characters and a brilliant climax.
A must must read! I did pick out the murderer [OK twice or three times], and even if you do guess the solution earlier in book than I did, the clever narrative will still make you doubt your chosen suspect, and not stop you enjoying the story.
She leaned back against the tree trunk and slowly slumped to the ground. Felt the tears come without attempting to stop them this time. Because now she knew. There would be no afterwards.
'Shall we begin?' the voice said softly.
My reviews of the rest of Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series, that have been translated by Don Bartlett: