Norwegian crime author Jo Nesbo is best known for his Harry Hole series, which I haven’t yet explored. Blood on Snow is a short standalone, a novella or novella-plus, that I dispatched in a single sitting.
Nesbo is obviously great at hardboiled crime. He is capable of taut, lively scenes and fast, believable character sketches. He writes in a curt monochrome with sudden bursts of color, just as the title promises.
Blood on Snow is a delicious snack, featuring Olav, a hitman, whose boss hires him to kill his wife.
The book, despite being a slip of a thing, contains plenty of cool ideas, backstory and one or twists. It teeters on the edge of absurdity – there’s a severed head used for comic effect, and an unrequited love with a disabled woman that goes for pathos – without getting corny.
There is one major flaw, Corina, the boss’s wife. She’s a knockout blonde with a taste for rough sex, but that’s about as much of her as we ever get. Olav falls for her instead of fulfilling the contract, and most of the story involves him trying to survive the repercussions. Yet throughout the book, Corina remains a cardboard femme fatale. She’s boring and predictable, and Nesbo never really even tries to make her into anything other than a plot device or an excuse for a se scene. So I never really bought the idea that Olav loved her, which kind of undermines the point of the story.
Having never read other Nesbo books, I don’t know if this is typical for him; if he’s just too focused on the macho stuff of the hardboiled world and can’t bother mustering a credible female character. He seems otherwise entirely capable, so I suspect that the shortcoming resulted from Nesbo’s decision to write a very short book.
Is this a problem for genre fiction in general? There is a trend in publishing toward shorter books that offer a more cinematic experience and forego too much of the wordy literary shit. I get it; I also tend to prefer buying relatively smaller books, unless it’s something that I’m confident will be worth a deeper investment.
But we have invented novels for a reason. There is a certain amount of work required to bring a story and its characters fully to life. Yes, as writers we are now competing with Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, and all other manner of distraction. But is the solution to write half-sized novels that can’t deliver properly?
Or is it to stick to telling the story as it really needs to be told – and rewarding the reader willing to attempt it, so that we go back for more?