~post by Chris M
Three years ago I had never heard of Jo Nesbø. I was still relatively new to crime fiction and had only really covered the essentials: Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, etc… I remember the day I cracked open my copy of The Redbreast, which was the earliest Inspector Harry Hole novel available in America at the time. I was sitting in a coffee shop on South 1st here in Austin, TX. I distinctly remember taking a sip of my coffee and burning my mouth. So I read a few pages, or so I thought, reached over and took another sip of coffee and it had gone cold. I looked at the corner of the page and quickly realized that those few pages I read were actually the first hundred.
I was enthralled. I finished The Redbreast in two days. Within a month I’d read four Harry Hole novels. By the end of that year I’d read every Nesbø novel I could get my hands on.
2011 was the year Jo Nesbø became my favorite modern crime writer, and in October of 2013 I got the chance to interview him. I remember having a slight freak out in the minutes before I was supposed to call Jo at his hotel in Vancouver, BC. I was pouring over the questions I’d written in advance, sweating, and chain smoking in a futile attempt to calm my nerves. But when I did finally connect with Mr. Nesbø the strangest thing happened; I forgot all about my pre-written questions, my nervousness faded into the empty space at the back of my mind, and my cigarette burned out without my noticing.
It was a singular experience for me, a guy who rarely gets star struck. I was all geared up to wow my favorite author with intellectual questions about art, and writing, and the deeper meanings buried within his novels, but when the time came to ask those questions I just shot from the hip. And we just talked. We talked about his characters, his writing process, his future plans, and the international success of his novels, but it wasn’t forced. We didn’t follow the typical interview protocol of posing a question, getting a response, and moving on to the next item on the agenda. It was a conversation between two people, one of whom happens to be an international and critically acclaimed writer.
When the conversation ended I quickly scrambled to my computer to plug in my digital recorder to review the interview, only to find that my batteries had died about 20 minutes into our conversation. I was crushed. Here I was, ready to transcribe every word and publish it for all to see, and now I had nothing to show. No proof that my dream-come-true had even occurred. So I present to you faithful reader, a very short version of a great conversation with Jo Nesbø.
CHRIS: Do you think there is any redemption for a Harry Hole, a man who is a career alcoholic and addict?
JO NESBØ: I think so. Harry is a haunted guy. Everything he does is for others. He spends a lot of his time trying to help other people because it is his way of repenting. He’s a police inspector because that’s something he excels at. Where he is more or less in control. Relationships are not the same for him, and he struggles with maintaining control. He has a fear that the people in his life will leave him, and I think that informs a lot of his choices.
CHRIS: In a recent NPR segment, you were interviewed while walking the streets of Oslo. Based on that interview it seems like Oslo is a little brighter than the version you write in your novels. Do you think the city is as dark as you present it, or is Harry just the type of character who requires a darker landscape?
NESBØ: The Oslo in the Harry Hole novels is a version that does and doesn’t exist. Oslo has good and bad areas, like lots of cities, but I sometimes focus on the darker aspects of Oslo. We have drugs and prostitution. You can still find working girls and junkies in Oslo, so it’s got its problems, but as a fiction writer you get to create things, so the Oslo in my books is an exploration of those darker things.
CHRIS: Olso is a city that has a bit of a sordid past in the world of music, specifically the Black Metal movement in the early 1990’s. Do you still see those extreme attitudes in present day Oslo?
NESBØ: Not really so much anymore. I think there are still those who believe in that sort of ideology, but it’s not expressed in extreme ways. For example, my band went to a recording studio to record our record and there were these black metal guys in the studio too, but they were very professional. We play a sort of pop-rock n roll and these guys look like the party guys, but it was us who ended up being the partiers! The metal guys were all very nice and respectful. Totally professional.
CHRIS: There is a rumor floating around that Martin Scorsese is going to be direction the film version of The Snowman. Is this true?
NESBØ: Well he was initially supposed to direct it, but he is so busy that he won’t be able to. He is very interested in the film. He is still going to be involved with it, but not as a director.
So there you have it. A very short version of the epic conversation I had with Jo Nesbø. I would like to thank the good folks over at Random House for giving me this opportunity. If you haven’t read a Nesbø novel, come find me at BookPeople and I will make sure you leave with at least one (but probably more like 10).