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With the exception of The Millennium Trilogy (Dragon Tattoo series) and one other standalone novel, I am not highly experienced in the genre of Scandinavian mystery that has become all the rage over the past few years amongst fans of mystery/thrillers. But from the moment I saw the cover for Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, I was intrigued.
And then, when I started reading, I realized that maybe I knew more about these novels than I was giving myself credit for. It hit all the hallmarks of the previous books I’d read – exhilarating descriptions of the most placid, snow-covered scenery, a hero burdened by failures and flaws, crimes committed with a frequently clinic savagery, and backstories riddled with elaborate, intertwining stories about families and lovers. If that had been all I’d taken from the novel, I would have been satisfied enough.
But where The Snowman stands out is in the layout and the detail. Nesbo cleverly keeps the reader involved in the novel by laying out clues to the mystery in unexpected places and at unexpected times. Indeed, the lead detective, Harry Hole, ends up solving a variety of lesser mysteries in the course of dealing with the main one – and all of them play a role in piecing together the final summary.
For anyone interested in mystery/thriller novels, this one should be on your list. The pacing and plotting is superb, and the story is clever. Nesbo – like other writers in this genre – has a way of masking the frenetic tendencies of the killers and cops by artfully describing the winter scenes in which both perform their roles. But he also displays a wonderful knack for engaging with the motivations of hero and villain alike, even when those motivations are tough to swallow. The result is a crime novel that reads with a great deal more warmth than any book with its title ought to manage.