GUEST POST – Surly Joe
SYNOPSIS (From Goodreads) – Jon is on the run. He has betrayed Oslo’s biggest crime lord: The Fisherman.
Fleeing to an isolated corner of Norway, to a mountain town so far north that the sun never sets, Jon hopes to find sanctuary amongst a local religious sect.
Hiding out in a shepherd’s cabin in the wilderness, all that stands between him and his fate are Lea, a bereaved mother and her young son, Knut.
But while Lea provides him with a rifle and Knut brings essential supplies, the midnight sun is slowly driving Jon to insanity.
And then he discovers that The Fisherman’s men are getting closer…
Outside the cafe where I write, it’s gray. It’s cold, damp, dreary. The sun is a faint yellow bead. It’s trying to shine through the cloud, but it’s not being successful. Nothing about the day is particularly pleasing. It’s not ominous, only unsettling. Not comfortable.
Inside the pages of Midnight Sun, the new crime novel by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo, the atmosphere is the same. Not comfortable. Short, stark, choppy sentences describe the bleak and cynical existence of Jon Hansen, a mid-level criminal and hit-man who has deceived his boss and is now running for his life, hiding out in a tiny hunting cabin in the “desolate, monotonous, rolling landscape” of Northern Norway. Isolation and paranoia eat at him, fueling his fatalism. He hopes to live. He expects to die.
This is the genre of Nordic Noir, and Jo Nesbo is a leader in the field. His writing is blunt, his plot is simple and, while not overly original, it is always engaging. His characters are not overly likable. But the mood is all-important and all-encompassing. It is reminiscent of the detective novels and films of the 1940s, only the shadow and grit of the city has been replaced by Norway’s barren sub-Arctic landscape. In Midnight Sun, Jon Hansen is, at best, an existential anti-hero who is tough to like. The locals that he meets while on the run don’t seem too trustworthy but he begrudgingly tries to trust them anyway, despite the fact that he is “more inclined to believe in a junkie’s love of drugs than in people’s love for one another”.
With solitude and the perception of approaching doom, Jon’s thoughts turn to religion and philosophy. He is bitter at life, bitter at God. “Even the very sharpest minds”, he says, “are prepared to believe in the stuff and nonsense of Christianity if they think it offers a chance to escape death”. And yet, “God. Salvation. Paradise. Eternal life. It was an appealing thought”. But existential musings won’t help him survive. His only hope is the assistance he is receiving from Lea, a young single mother, and her son Knut, both bearing scars from their own difficult lives.
In the final chapters, as Jon’s pursuers approach and the tension increases, the lightening and thunder strike and reflect the drama in an overly melodramatic and almost soap-opera way. And as I read, a new sensation starts to develop, a fear manifests. I don’t want to admit it but I can’t ignore the direction that this narrative is going. The “Noir” of Jo Nesbo’s Nordic Noir is disappearing and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, faint but recognizable. After almost two hundred pages of glorious cynicism, the darkness and somberness that I’ve loved, there’s going to be an optimistic ending.
I am disappointed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jo Nesbo played football for Norway’s premier league team Molde, but his dream of playing professionally was dashed when he tore ligaments in his knee at the age of eighteen. After three years military service he attended business school and formed the band Di derre (‘Them There’). Their second album topped the charts in Norway, but he continued working as a financial analyst, crunching numbers during the day and gigging at night.
When commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with his band, he instead came up with the plot for his first Harry Hole crime novel, The Bat. He is regarded as one of the world’s leading crime writers and his novels are published in over 50 languages.
In his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom. His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side. After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto. He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.