Nesbo, Jo. Headhunters.

NY: Random House, 2008.

I sort of have a thing about Scandinavian mystery and suspense fiction and I read quite a lot of it, but Nesbo is a new one to me. This gripping, dead-run yarn features Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter — by his own reckoning, the best of his kind in Oslo, the “king of the heap.”

His recommendation of a candidate is equivalent to an offer of employment by his client. Brown is rather short, only five-foot-six, and while he tends to wave this away, it’s always on his mind and he’s defensive about the limitations it puts on him. He’s also aware of the advantage tall people have in the business world. “Tall people are visible, they can’t hide, they have to stand up and be counted. Short people move around in the sediment, they have a hidden plan, an agenda which revolves around the fact that they are short.” He’s not the sort of person who brims over with emotions, but he makes an exception for his wife, Diana. When she got pregnant, Roger talked her into having an abortion. Because, even though there’s only the two of them, “there was no room for a child. That is, no room for a child and me. For I knew Diana. She was perversely monogamous.” To make all this up to her, “to alleviate her longing,” they have a house and a car they really can’t afford and Diana, whose fixation is art, operates a gallery that, even when he bought it, Roger knew would hemorrhage money. But “the lease had been signed, the extensive decoration work was under way and our financial ruin secured.”

So, in order to meet his rising costs, Roger is also an art thief, successfully targeting those he interviews and fencing what he steals with the help of the security chief of the home alarm company everyone subscribes to (and whom, conveniently, he also recommended for his present job). But then, naturally, he tries to steal from entirely the wrong man and his life suddenly gets very complicated and very dangerous — and is likely to be very short. More than that, everything he thinks he knows about this candidate is wrong. And perhaps also everything he knows about his wife. The second half of the book is highly cinematic and it’s not surprising that it has already produced a film, in Norway. Also, quite apart from the plot, which is inventive, engrossing, and convincing, and the characters, who are highly original, fully-formed, and multi-dimensional, Nesbo definitely has a way with words. (The translator gets some credit, too, I’m sure.) This book is a one-off but Nesbo was already well known in Scandinavia for his police procedural series featuring Inspector Harry Hole. I haven’t read any of those — but I’m going to.

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Published in: on 13 July 2012 at 6:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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