Norwegian bestseller is just alright

Harvill Secker, £11.99

NORWEGIAN Jo Nesbo shot to UK prominence in 2010 with The Snowman. This was quickly followed by what is considered his best work: 2011’s The Leopard. Both feature Detective Harry Hole, a flawed yet brilliant detective who operates in the Norwegian underworld.

Headhunters is a departure from the series. Already sitting at No1 on the Norwegian bestseller lists it follows executive headhunter Roger Brown, who uses his art-patron wife’s connections to arrange interviews for CEO-level candidates – all of whom happen to be art collectors – and then proceeds to burgle their homes whilst the candidate interviews elsewhere. This system has worked for some time, until Roger comes up against a candidate with an ex-special forces background – who later ends up joining a conspiracy to remove Roger from his position of kingmaker.

However, Nesbo’s departure from the Harry Hole formula results in a novel lacking the tight pace, suspense and colourful palette of unsavoury characters that made previous works household names.

Moreover, the only characters explored to any extent are the lead Roger Brown and the victim/enemy Clas Greve. Roger’s wife, Diane, is left mostly mute: the only discernible fact being that she has veins that stick out on her forehead during sex and has loud and frequent orgasms. Roger’s love interest meanwhile is left almost totally blank – and generally painted as a socially inept extra – not in any way equipped for the somewhat pivotal role she plays in the closing chapter of the book.

Clas Greve quickly becomes a comic-book villain in his relentless, increasingly tiresome pursuit of Roger – including at different points stabbing him in the buttocks and relieving himself on Roger’s head.

In addition – as flattering as it may be to any recruiter that reads this, it seems unlikely that a headhunter could be so incredibly influential that major businesses feel the need to assassinate them. In my experience most recruiters would be grateful if a client returned their call, never mind bringing in Norwegian paratroopers.

Nesbo’s book has been a roaring success in Norway, with recent confirmation of a film within the year – however one can’t help but feel that he has missed something here. Too much emphasis is placed on Roger being a sleaze at the expense of both plot and other characters. When towards the end some form of redemption is created, it feels hollow.

Perhaps Harry Hole was the better candidate for the job after all.

Alasdair Byers

Profile books, £25

A FASCINATION with this country’s captivating history is something that is almost crushed out of most school children – but only almost.

The television channels, programmes, magazines and books devoted to history shows that the subject looms large in peoples’ imagination.

Many a great book has been written on the history of England, most notably Lord Macaulay’s enthralling work and David Hume’s six volume masterpiece. Peter Ackroyd – whose recent work on London’s history is one of the best ever produced – is mimicking Hume, with the first volume, in his six volume The History of England, just out in bookshops. Sadly most of us won’t have the time to plough through six volumes on the history of England until we retire, which is a good reason to turn to Sir Simon Jenkins’s A Short History of England.

The chairman of the National Trust has long been a distinguished defender of England’s finest institutions and reforms as well as sharp critic of its less welcome corruptions. Although a defender of traditions, Jenkins’s work is not in the least bit jingoistic, presenting a balanced view of the story of England.

The principal figures and events that moulded this country are reflected upon: from the Saxon dawn, through kings and queens, the rise of parliamentary power, right up to Thatcher and her successors.

Dip into a chapter of an evening and let Jenkins sweep you through England’s history, painting a vivid picture of this country’s green and pleasant land.

Philip Salter