The Blurb On The Back:
Olav lives the lonely life of a fixer.
When you “fix” people for a living – terminally – it’s hard to get close to anyone.
Now he’s finally met the woman of his dreams.
But there are two problems.
She’s his boss’s wife.
And Olav’s just been hired to kill her.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s a few days before Christmas in 1977 in Oslo, Norway.
Olav works as a “fixer” for Daniel Hoffman, one of the city’s two main crime lords. Mostly he works on “fixing” dealers and debtors – low level criminals – who work Hoffman’s rival, the Fisherman and he’s good at it, reliable and discreet. Now, though, Hoffman has a special job for Olav, one that will pay 5 times his normal fee. All Olav has to do is kill Daniel’s wife, Corina. Olav knows it’s a dangerous job – not least because of the potential for Hoffman to decide that Olav’s involvement makes him too dangerous to keep around – but it isn’t like he has a lot of choice.
While staking out Corina to learn her habits and work out how best to kill her, Olav discovers that she has secrets of her own. But the longer Olav watches her, the more he realises that he is falling in love with her. So he decides to take action, only to discover that it makes his problems a whole lot worse …
Jo Nesbo’s standalone crime noir novella (translated from Norwegian by Neil Smith) is a tightly written story with some inky black humour and although it is a little predictable, it’s fast-paced and at times oddly moving. For some reason, I have not gotten around to reading much of his work, but this novella has shown me I need to correct that.
The plot here is a pretty straightforward noir of hitman falling for a femme fatale and finding himself in a whole world of trouble but while the ending is not really a surprise, the way Nesbo gets you there is where the fun is to be found. There are some pitch black moments of humour, notably where Olav calls Hoffman to announce that he’s solved Hoffman’s problem with Corina only to discover he’s made things a thousand times worse but also a scene towards the end involving a bloody shoot out and a Russian enforcer who’ll only let Olav out of a dead end if he provides him with proof of his boss’s death. However at the same time Nesbo doesn’t scrimp on showing the sheer nastiness that his characters are capable of – that same shoot out featuring a character who uses a child as a human shield. The pacing also works pretty well with Nesbo drawing in back story to expand on what would otherwise be a thin plot.
Olav himself is a character who is drawn with care. Dyslexic and yet a voracious reader who could have gone to university, he comes from damaged roots with a convict father and alcoholic mother. He’s also given to making assumptions and viewing life through a fiction lens, which makes him over-romanticise and he’s surprisingly soft-hearted for a hitman, paying off the debts of a man who tried to pimp out his deaf/mute girlfriend because he feels sorry for her and still keeping an eye on her. I can’t say that I believed in his feelings for Corina (who is little more than a bog standard femme fatale) but I was more interested in his attitudes towards Maria Olsen and wanted to see more of it than what we get, given it reveals so much about his character.
I enjoyed the depiction of Hoffman and the Fisherman and the details that Olav gives of their operations. Nesbo also does well at giving Olav’s scenes with them real menace but in different ways. My edition of this book came with a preview of a sequel set in the same world, which I would be interested in checking out.
Even though I’m a big crime and thriller fan, I have only read one other Nesbo book before this one (THE BAT, which was his first novel and which I found a mixed bag). However, I would definitely correct that on the basis of my enjoyment of this and look forward to dipping to the HARRY HOLE series just as soon as my bank balance permits it …