In lesser hands, Blood on Snow could have read like a substandard regurgitation of noir fiction from yesteryear. But it’s Jo Nesbo at the helm of this ship – author of ten Harry Hole mysteries, and two standout standalone thrillers, including last year’s brilliant The Son – so this story about a fixer named Olav possesses a certain credibility, and benefits from his deft prose and proven storytelling prowess. There’s no pretense; Blood on Snow is a short, sharp and brutal piece of noir fiction, unlike anything else in Nesbo’s catalogue.
Blood on Snow is narrated in the first-person, in the noir tradition, with Olav talking to the reader, admitting his inadequacies and detailing some of his inner truths. Despite the novel’s low page-count, Nesbo packs in a substantial amount of character development, and Olav is rounded into a cohesive whole, albeit one with more than a few quirks and an underlining darkness.
Olav is a fixer – a killer, in layman’s terms – for one of Oslo’s major kingpins. He’s not an especially intelligent man, but a successful career as a contract killer relies more heavily on instinct rather than smarts, so he gets by – just. His moral compass is certainly askew, but not as unaligned as his profession might suggest, and contrary to his first appearance, there’s a lot of depth to the character. The life of a fixer is, necessarily, a lonely one. But Olav dreams of finding a woman: someone to love, and love him in return. And when he gazes upon his latest target, he thinks he’s found her: the one. This is a problem, of course – but not just for the obvious reason. Yes, Olav is destined to eliminate this woman, which isn’t a great start for any relationship; but the woman also happens to be his boss’s wife. So, to say Olav has a problem is an understatement, which multiplies as Nesbo piles on his protagonist’s ill-decisions and perpetual betrayals from supposed allies. As you would expect, come the final pages, the body count is high.
The latest Jo Nesbo isn’t the multi-layered crime epic readers might expect, and indeed Harry Hole fans might lament this change of pace. Blood on Snow is pared down, raw, but undeniably satisfying. It’s fleeting, but highly recommended.