Norwegian by Neil Smith
Alfred A. Knopf 2015, 224 pages
Collier County Public Library: Yes
“When a woman is talking to you, listen to what she says with her eyes.” – Victor Hugo
Since his earliest memory, Olav Johansen loved making up stories. With the soul of a poet, he seemed born to become a writer. Instead he became a hit man or fixer. When we meet him in late 1976 he has just carried out a “hit” for Daniel Hoffmann, an Oslo crime boss for whom Olav freelances. Pleased with the result, Hoffmann informs him the next assignment is to fix Corina Hoffmann, Daniel’s wife, who is having an affair.
Johansen prepares for the hit by observing the gorgeous Corina in the Hoffmann apartment. This goes on for a few days, as Olav is reluctant to “take out” this female specimen of physical perfection. He watches day after day as a young skinny guy comes every afternoon at 3 p.m., slaps Corina around as foreplay before their session and leaves precisely at 3:45 p.m. After a few days, Olav decides to give Daniel a bonus, follows the skinny guy and fixes him in front of his home. Hoffmann is not pleased – the skinny guy is his only son Benjamin.
So begins the fixer’s flight from one of his best customers. First he rescues Corina, taking her to his home. No one knows where he lives, not even his mother. They will be safe while they make a long-term plan. Then he decides to get a special pizza from his favorite Chinese restaurant to impress Corina, with whom he is now head over heels in love. Things go awry.
Readers familiar with Jo Nesbo need to know this isnot one of his Harry Hole mysteries and definitely not one of his children’s books. Blood On Snow is a mesmerizing gritty look at the personal side of a paid killer. A man who tells a small boy witnessing his murdering a person, “I won’t come back and get you but forget what I look like. Okay?” A man who kills another fixer sent to get him and gives that man’s widow the 20 thousand kroner fee he had been promised. A man who is dyslexic but has made reading his main hobby. He reads Les Miserables and rewrites in his mind the parts that Victor Hugo got wrong. He has been in love with a deaf mute named Maria for months, but unable to express that love, then falls into Corina’s arms within days of meeting her. Not your average hit man or at least not your average fictional hit man.
Do not be fooled by its short length – this book is packed full of story. Blood On Snow is beautifully written with fully developed descriptive characters. Flashbacks tell the story of Olav’s chaotic childhood that culminated in his first kill – his father. Probably not to everyone’s taste, this novel is par excellence in its genre, which I would describe as the flip side of Scandinavian noir where the protagonist is usually a detective. My rating: 4.5/5.0. Available at the usual vendors.
Maggie Gust has been an avid reader all her life. Her past includes working as a teacher as well as various occupations in the health care field. She shares a hometown with Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, but Florida has been her home since 1993. Genealogy, walking on the beach, reading, movies and writing, are among her pursuits outside of work. She is self employed and works from her Naples home.