The Snowman by Jo Nesbø

Source: Public library
Hardcover, 383 pages
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The Snowman by Jo Nesbø, which was the May book club selection, is the 7th book in the Harry Hole detective series and translated by Don Bartlett.  The translation is wonderfully descriptive and never feels stilted, which is perfect when reading a mystery novel.  In fact, the clipped sentences read to me more like the pace of a mystery/thriller should be, while at the same time being descriptive, evocative, and creating an appropriate emphasis (if sometimes, over-emphasis) on the cold.

Oslo police investigator Harry Hole has solved a serial killer case before, and as his fame makes the rounds in Norway, he garners the attention of a young detective and a killer.  Mothers across the country are disappearing, and statistics reveal that about 20 percent of children are not related to the fathers they live with.  This story involves not only so called mommy issues, as one book club member stated, but also the power of genetics and survival of the fittest theories.

From the creepy snowmen that pop up after the disappearance of mothers across the city to the highly suspicious female detective Katrine Bratt, Hole has his work cut out for him in trying to solve these disappearances and murders.  As the mold is sought out in Hole’s apartment, the case has uncovered a series of ailments from Raynaud’s syndrome to scleroderma and noctambulism and other parasomnias.  These conditions play a significant role in how these characters act, react, and interact with one another, and they often lead to confusion of the facts in the snowman case.

Hole is a prototypical police detective consumed by his work, and like others, his obsession with solving his cases leads him to have a very solitary life in which alcohol plays a significant role.  What’s done really well here is the twists and turns in the case, hampered by the various ailments of the players, but also the dialogue.  It’s purposeful and witty, which can make the errors in judgment all the more ironic.

“‘I’m in the office and have had a look at what you’ve found.  You said all the missing women were married with children.  I think there could be something in that.’


‘I have no idea.  I just needed to hear myself say that to someone.  So that I could decide if it sounded idiotic.’

‘And how does it sound?’

‘Idiotic.  Good night.'” (page 113)

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett, was a thrilling read and well written.  Hole may be an anti-hero, but he’s one you’ll want on your side to bring you justice, even if his own dysfunction can derail him.  Although this is a 7th book in the series, there was enough back story that readers would have no trouble following Hole.  Some readers may prefer to see the character’s evolution from start to finish, and for those, like myself, I recommend starting at the beginning.

What the Book Club Thought:

There were two members, including the one who nominated the book, who did not finish, and one member who skimmed through quite a bit of it.  Those who finished the book did have some issues with the set up of the narration, which shifted quite a bit between main and little used characters.  Overall, some of the crimes were intriguing, and downright gruesome, which some members enjoyed, but there was one scene in which a body was found in such a way that another member said it seemed cliche or recycled from his other book, The Son.  There were a few who rated the book 4 stars and several others rated it about three stars.  This one got mixed reviews, but for those who enjoyed it, they had no issues with the novel’s pacing or the narration.  One member found the narration to be choppy, which they thought might be due to translation, while another member thought it was the author’s style and the need to emphasize the cold.

About the Author:

Jo Nesbø is a Glass Key award-winning Norwegian author and musician. As of March 2014 more than 3 million copies of his novels have been sold in Norway, and his work has been translated into over 40 languages, selling 23 million copies.


  1. Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) says

    I’m having issues with a translated book right now, though I’ve read plenty in the past. You win some, you lose some, lol. Sounds like it made for an interesting discussion amongst the members who read it.

  2. Serena, it sounds like you enjoyed this mystery novel a lot. I will keep it in mind.

  3. I can’t say that the narration stuck out for me when I read it. I was just completely engrossed in the story. His style has changed though with recent books. Not to my liking.

    • Sorry to hear that he’s changed his style. But maybe the new style would have worked better for the book club. I thought the translation was good, someone else in the book club did not.