Back in January I reported on a binge-reading journey I went on with Jo Nesbo and his Harry Hole character. As I wrote then, I had a marvelous time with that series of books. I was keen, therefore, to get hold of his latest novel, a non-Harry Hole thriller called “Macbeth“. After waiting some weeks for the VLB hold system to cough it up, I grabbed it with eagerness and began to read.
I had not read any reviews of the book before I began and it was a shock to realize just a few pages in that this is a faithful retelling of the Scottish play. It is set in the 1970s or 1980s in an unnamed city in an unnamed northern country. The city is economically destitute and overrun by corrupt officials and drug dealers. Life is grim for all but the elite.
The novel begins with the death of Kenneth, the venal Commissioner of Police who has essentially dominated the town for a long time. The police heads of Organized Crime, Narcotics, and SWAT each aim to take over control, promising to make life better and less corrupt for the citizens. Major characters are called Banquo, Duncan, Duff, and Lennox; and the chief drug-dealer, in an illusion to the play’s witches, is called Hecate.
Macbeth, head of SWAT, along his mistress and mentor, Lady, who runs the prestigious local casino, turns out to be the most ruthless of all and succeeds in obtaining his goal, with much murder and bloodshed (mostly of other policemen) along the way. However, as those who know the play will recognize, things do not end well.
What pleased me most in the Harry Hole series was the realism of the characters, the locales, the police procedure, the plots. All of this is gone in “Macbeth”; a heavy gauze of blood-soaked fantasy lies over the entire piece. Moreoever, if you know the play (I was in it three times as a young ‘un), you pretty well know what is going to happen next and to whom. Frankly, I was rather bored by the time Macbeth’s Lady fell ill.
Nesbo is a fine writer and I suspect that many people will enjoy this book just for the style, especially if they do not know the story in advance. I was greatly disappointed.