Olav is a fixer, working for Daniel Hoffman, formerly Oslo's biggest heroin dealer, now in competition with someone called The Fisherman. Olav 'fixes' problems for Hoffman, which usually means eliminating someone. He's just completed a hit when Hoffman gives him a new assignment: to 'fix' his wife Corrine, who is having an affair. Olav hesitates, not because he's opposed to taking care of someone who's made a mistake, but because he senses extra risk in getting involved with Daniel's personal life. But still, he has little choice, so he starts to stake out Corrine, and that's where everything begins to go wrong.
On the surface, Blood On Snow reminds one of Headhunters: a character forced to work out a seemingly intractable problem on his own, with major questions about love and trust getting in the way of his judgement. Olav is a different kind of main character, of course, introspective and private and not greedy, as opposed to very publicly successful and avaricious art thief in the earlier novel, but the books are similar in their sense of narrative drive, but in this book the headlong rush is slowed by Olav's nature, and Nesbo shows a deft touch with the contradictions in his character. Olav's in love with an ex-junkie he 'rescued', who's a mute working in a supermarket; but he someone feels Maria is too good for him.
It's getting near Christmas, and what Nesbo has done here is create a classic film noir storyline, complete with an angel and a femme fatale, and in Olav he's made an almost perfect film noir hero: a romantic underneath his hard shell, who can't help himself from falling into the self-destructive web of hopeless love. What becomes evident is the linkage between our modern noir and classic fairy tales, and again Nesbo's style in this book: simple and restrained, emphasises the point. And even though you can see where it is going, he manages to take you by surprise at least once, and he ends it in a scene of beautiful sadness.
It's a piece of finely crafted writing, a slighter-seeming novel that may as good and more powerful than any he's written before. Movie rights have been sold, Leonardo DiCaprio is mentioned and would be all wrong for the role, but like Headhunters, Blood On Snow will adapt well to film. If the well-judged book is just left alone.
Blood On Snow by Jo Nesbo
Harvill Secker £12.99 ISBN 9781846558603
NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)