Book review: Jo Nesbo hits the target at will in new novella Midnight Sun

The only problem with the latest by the new king of Scandinavian noir is that it’s over all too soon

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 3:33pm

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo

Harvill Secker

Midnight Sun, the second of two novellas by Norwegian thriller writer Jo Nesbo to be published in English this year, is very much like the first – about a hit man on the run after crossing his boss – but that is no bad thing.

You pretty much know what you are going to get with Nesbo. Blood, death, a likeable non-conformist hero, and more blood.

Today the prolific Nesbo is very much the king of Nordic murder mysteries, and seems to hit the target at will - which is where he and his latest hero, hitman Jon, differ. Jon is in trouble because he does not like to kill people.

Fellow hitman Johnny arrives to shoot Jon while he is still in bed, for letting a drug dealer live in return for keeping half his money and drugs

“‘Head shot or stomach?’

‘Head,’ I said. I got out the brown case containing the money belt and amphetamines. I turned to face him. Saw his eye above the sights of the revolver … I wondered what he was waiting for … The dustbin men. He didn’t want them to hear the shot when they were standing under the window …

I penetrated and shattered the glass as if it were a soap bubble and the next minute I was falling through the air. I hit the roof of the bin lorry with my left shoulder, rolled over, then slid down the side of the vehicle. I pulled up my pyjama trousers, which had slid down and glanced up at the window. Behind a frame of broken glass Johnny was standing looking down at me. He gave me a crooked smile … I had won that round.”

Jon flees to an isolated part of Norway so far north that the sun in summer never sets, and hides in a shepherd’s cabin in the wilderness, with a beautiful grieving woman, Lea, and her young son, Knut, providing provisions and a rifle.

But he knows the killers will find him.

Slowly the waiting, the endless days without night and thoughts of Lea play on his mind. Until …

“I raised the binoculars to check the ridge beyond the trees. And there they were. Four of them. Three disappeared in among the trees … two dots. They looked as though they were flying across the heather, down towards the trees. Dogs … This was starting to look bad.”

Nesbo is in good form, providing a few surprises even though, like its predecessor Blood on Snow, Midnight Sun is over much too soon. His punchy, cut-to-the chase action, credible characterisation and minimalist dialogue are all on show.

He cleverly cuts between Jon’s haunted past and increasingly stressful present as his hero counts the long, slow, monotonous hours and days waiting for danger, while the growing tension cleverly mirrors Jon’s burgeoning feelings for Lea.