May 22, 2011
Norwegian crime fiction author Jo Nesbø has been heralded as "the next Stieg Larsson" quite a bit outside his home country lately. The title, which comes from an article in the Independent U.K. newspaper, is even prominently emblazoned on the cover of his chilling new thriller, "The Leopard."
So what does Nesbø think about being touted as a successor to the late Swedish "Millennium series" writer, right on the front of his own book?
"I was a bit annoyed when I first saw it," Nesbø, 51, admitted in a recent interview at the offices of Random House Canada.
"I guess most writers, they don't want to be compared to other writers. But then again, it was a quote from the Independent. I think they compared us because they were sort of seeing the same kind of success for me in the future as Stieg Larsson has had, which was flattering actually, but we are quite different writers I think."
Still, Nesbø noted that Larsson has helped open doors for other writers in the genre.
"For the Scandinavian crime writers it was a good thing that Stieg Larsson came along," he said. "But then again, there were writers preceding him that were door openers for Stieg Larsson also, like, Henning Mankell for example."
Like Larsson, Nesbø has a huge following for a Scandinavian-set series of suspenseful page-turners.
In Nesbø's case, his protagonist is Harry Hole, a drug-addled but brilliant police officer who hails from Oslo and specializes in serial killers.
At the start of "THE LEOPARD," the eighth book in the bestselling series and the sixth to be translated into English, Harry is burning his money and talent away on opium and gambling in Hong Kong. He fled there after the turmoil he faced in the previous book, "THE SNOWMAN."
He's convinced to return home, however, when a detective colleague visits to tell him that his father is ailing and that two women have been murdered in Oslo.
"When I first started writing, I was pretty sure that I had nothing to do with Harry, you know, he was a completely different character than I am," said Nesbø, who has played professional football in Norway, served in the military, worked as a financial analyst and played in the rock band Di Derre (Them There).
"But looking back at the series, I have to admit that I probably used more of myself in the character than I was aware of at the time."
One of Nesbø's childhood memories even helped shaped the storyline in "THE LEOPARD," which was translated by Don Bartlett.
Nesbø said Leopold's Apple, a fictional brutal torture weapon the killer places inside the victims' mouths, stems from his thoughts of playing with his brother in his grandmother's apple garden.
"One day my brother challenged me. He said: 'OK, let's see if you can put this apple in your mouth' — and it was a big apple — 'without picking it,' and so I did. I was able to get it into my mouth but I wasn't able to get it out again," he recalled.
"So I was lying there on the branch and then I started thinking: 'What will happen if I stay here for, like, a week, two weeks? Because this apple is still growing, will my head eventually explode? What is going to happen?' After that I had nightmares about that apple and I think that was the idea for the Leopold's Apple."
The torture device is but one of several gruesome elements in "THE LEOPARD."
Nesbø, who has an 11-year-old daughter, said the novel is probably his "most violent and darkest book so far," although he didn't originally intend for it to be that way.
"When I started working on the synopsis, it didn't feel that dark," he explained.
"But as soon as I started writing the first chapter and describing how the first girl is killed in the novel, I had to really dig deep and confront my own fears in many ways."
As with all the books in the Harry Hole series, "THE LEOPARD" is a standalone novel that can be enjoyed and understood by those who haven't read the previous instalments.
Nesbø has already written the ninth book in the series, which hits shelves in Norway next month.
He was also recently at the Cannes Film Festival for the screening of a movie adaptation of his standalone thriller "HEADHUNTERS," which will premiere in Norway in either August or September. He said it might also screen at the Toronto International film Festival.
Nesbø has also sold the film rights to "THE SNOWMAN" to the production company that's behind several Coen brothers movies, including "FARGO."
"I resisted selling the rights for the series for many, many years, but then they phoned me and said that 'We made "Fargo," how about working together?' and I had to say yes," said Nesbø.
And who would play Harry?
"It's impossible for me to imagine who could play him," said Nesbø. "I mean, there are a lot of good actors but my Harry doesn't exist.
"Nick Nolte, he's probably a bit too old now, but he's like the closest."