JO NESBO’S TASTE FOR BLOOD

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Jo Nesbo has spent 20 years in­flict­ing sud­den, vi­o­lent ends on the char­ac­ters in his best­selling crime nov­els. So it seems ap­pro­pri­ate that a few hours be­fore I meet him in Lon­don, Death has, if not ex­actly stared him in the face, cer­tainly given him a wink as it brushed past. Just as his plane from Oslo was about to land at Heathrow that morn­ing, Nesbo tells me, it sud­denly lurched sky­wards again. “There’s a long, long si­lence, it’s re­ally still on board, ev­ery­one is wait­ing for the cap­tain to say if some­thing is wrong with the plane. And I thought, ‘OK, maybe this is it, who knows?’

“And then my first thought was, ‘OK, in that case, good, I don’t have to do all this book-re­lease s---’” – he flashes me a no-of­fence grin – “‘and I don’t have to worry about the book be­cause it’s all fin­ished. My sec­ond thought was, ‘OK, I’m happy. I’m 56, and I’ve had a good deal.’ ” The prob­lem turned out to be noth­ing more se­ri­ous than an­other plane block­ing the run­way. “I was happy with that out­come too.”

Nesbo’s life to date cer­tainly seems to have been suc­cess­ful enough to sug­gest some kind of Faus­tian pact has been en­tered into. Once one of Nor­way’s best­known rock stars as a singer with the band Di Derre (“Those Guys”), he is now in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous as the cre­ator of the er­ratic sleuth Harry Hole, with world­wide sales of more than 33 mil­lion books.

These days he has the look of a vet­eran rocker, the crag­gi­ness

Best­selling crime writer Jo Nesbo tells Jake Ker­ridge how a vam­pire found his way into the lat­est Harry Hole thriller ‘The nov­els are metaphors for what­ever was go­ing on in my life’

that sug­gests a life lived just the right side of too well. He com­bines good hu­mour and self-dep­re­ca­tion with an earnest in­ten­sity. One can see why many of those at his book sign­ings buckle at the knees.

Harry Hole ex­cites pos­si­bly even more de­vo­tion than his cre­ator, so his fans are re­lieved that, de­spite hints of re­tire­ment, and a four-year hia­tus, he is re­turn­ing in Nesbo’s de­li­ciously dark new novel. “I was do­ing some re­search for an­other project, not crime fic­tion, and I was deep in the dark cel­lar of psy­chi­a­try, and I came across a ref­er­ence to clin­i­cal vam­pirism. And I started to read about it, and I just knew there was the new Harry Hole novel.”

The Thirst sees a vam­piric se­rial killer on the loose in Oslo, con­nect­ing with women on Tin­der and then end­ing each date by bit­ing them with gi­ant metal den­tures be­fore mix­ing him­self a smoothie with their blood, play­ing with typ­i­cal in­ge­nu­ity on a mix­ture of top­i­cal con­cerns and more atavis­tic fears.

“Clin­i­cal vam­pirism re­ally ex­ists,” says Nesbo. “It’s usu­ally called Ren­field’s Syn­drome, after Drac­ula’s ser­vant Ren­field in the novel.

“I be­came in­ter­ested in the psy­chi­a­try of drink­ing some­body’s blood. Does it stem from the myth of Drac­ula, does it come from the rit­u­als of getting an en­emy’s pow­ers or even eter­nal life, or is it more an in­ti­mate thing, that the clos­est you can get to some­body is to drink that per­son’s blood?”

Only one man can save the women of Oslo, of course: Harry Hole, the al­co­holic walk­ing dis­as­ter area who be­comes so ob­sessed with his new case that he fails to no­tice his wife is dan­ger­ously ill.

Since the last Harry book, Nesbo’s pub­li­ca­tions have in­cluded the ec­cen­tric novella Blood on Snow, about a hit­man in love

with a deaf pros­ti­tute who can­not de­clare his feel­ings to her in writ­ing be­cause he is ashamed of his poor spell­ing. That book flowed from him, he tells me, “like when you write a song that you feel al­ready ex­ists, you don’t cre­ate it, you’re just getting it down on pa­per”, and he is now adapt­ing it as a screen­play to be di­rected by the Spi­der-Man ac­tor Tobey Maguire.

I tell him that Blood on Snow struck me as a more per­sonal project than the more main­stream Harry nov­els.

“Maybe,” he says, “but Harry Hole feels very per­sonal to me too. We are dif­fer­ent. Harry has no train­ing what­so­ever in be­ing happy. I have some train­ing.

“He is dig­ging his own grave and I think he is long­ing for noth­ing­ness, and the things I do in life are more to feel alive. But he is the char­ac­ter who, when I look back, I see he has most to do with my own life.

“I only re­alised it when my books started to be trans­lated and I had to read them again. My God, now it’s so ob­vi­ous they were metaphors for what­ever was go­ing on in my own life when I wrote them.”

He de­clines to elab­o­rate fur­ther. This cagi­ness is typ­i­cal of Nesbo, who is al­ways vague about his per­sonal life, ex­cept for his fre­quent and fond men­tions of his daugh­ter, from a mar­riage that ended in di­vorce. I re­mem­ber him once be­ing asked by a fe­male au­di­ence mem­ber at a lit­er­ary fes­ti­val if he was sin­gle (some­thing I have never heard any other au­thor asked, in­ci­den­tally) and he charm­ingly de­flected the ques­tion with a skill that sug­gested he was an old hand at chang­ing the sub­ject.

I think I can see where Nesbo gets the in­spi­ra­tion in The Thirst for the “Hole­heads”, the groupies who hang on Harry’s ev­ery word at po­lice col­lege. I won­der how he copes with the Nesbo-nuts, and all the rest of the “book-re­lease s---,” when I strongly sus­pect he shares the view ex­pressed by Harry in the book: “I do like peo­ple, I just don’t like be­ing with them.”

“Well, I do like be­ing with peo­ple but I have to have breaks,” he says. He re­mem­bers wist­fully the time pre-su­per­star­dom when he went off to a hotel in Egypt to write and spoke to no­body for two weeks ex­cept wait­ers.

He cer­tainly prefers soli­tude to the razzmatazz of show­biz. His 2007 novel The Snow­man has been made into a film, to be re­leased later this year, with Michael Fass­ben­der as Harry Hole. Apart from a dis­cus­sion about the char­ac­ter with the direc­tor To­mas Al­fred­son ( Tin­ker Tai­lor Sol­dier Spy), he has had lit­tle in­put. “It’s no longer my story, that’s why I didn’t want to get in­volved.” Could he have been more in­volved if he wanted to? “Prob­a­bly not,” he ad­mits, laugh­ing. “I think that To­mas is the kind of direc­tor who wants to tell his own story.

“I was in Oslo on the last day of shoot­ing and they put me in a scene, just for fun. I was han­dling a dog, and you’ll prob­a­bly see more of the dog than me.”

Nesbo knows that for­tune can be fickle, and won­ders if his par­tic­u­lar brand of mur­der­ous may­hem will con­tinue to be pop­u­lar in an in­creas­ingly trou­bled world.

But he sus­pects that Harry Hole’s “Gotham City” ver­sion of Oslo, in which good even­tu­ally tri­umphs over evil, is seen as com­fort­ing by many read­ers. “I think that is re­as­sur­ing to peo­ple,” he says. “More so in un­cer­tain times than in peace­ful times. And right now a lot of peo­ple are wor­ried, and right­fully so.”

One of Nesbo’s few ri­vals for the crown of the world’s most pop­u­lar thriller writer is Bri­tain’s own Lee Child, who has spo­ken in the past of de­lib­er­ately set­ting out to write best­sellers and suc­ceed­ing be­cause he un­der­stands how the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple think and feel. He claims to have cor­rectly guessed the out­come of ev­ery Gen­eral Elec­tion since the Seven­ties. Can Nesbo re­late to that?

“No,” he says. “Getting pop­u­lar is nice but you risk be­ing cor­rupted by pop­u­lar­ity. You will want the best­seller again, so you will au­to­mat­i­cally start ask­ing your­self, ‘ What do peo­ple want?’

“And you have to re­mem­ber what you started out do­ing was just what you wanted to write. You have to say to peo­ple, ‘This is what I write. If you hap­pen to like the same thing you’re wel­come, if not you can go some­where else.’ ”

‘Hav­ing best­sellers is nice, but you risk be­ing cor­rupted by pop­u­lar­ity’

A life well lived: be­fore he was an au­thor, Jo Nesbo was a Nor­we­gian rock star

Cold case: Michael Fass­ben­der as Harry Hole in the up­com­ing film adap­ta­tion of The Snow­man

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