Nesbo steps away from his standard Norwegian detective fare with this slim new novel that starts and ends with the blood of a murdered man soaking into the snow. Blood on Snow is written from the viewpoint of a mob “fixer,” a contract killer named Olav who is kept on the payroll of Oslo’s biggest crime boss to take care of problems that his boss doesn’t want to think about. These problems range from snitches to competitors to an unfaithful wife. And until Olav catches a glimpse of the wife, he has no problem shooting people at point-blank range or in the back, going back to his tiny apartment and sleeping it off until the next “commission” comes along.
But as the story proceeds, we discover that Olav is not a cold-blooded killer, but a rather tormented soul with a conscience that pops up unexpectedly. When his boss orders the prostitution and then the murder of a young deaf mute woman who failed to pay off her lover’s debt as promised, Olav pays her bill and then spends his nights following her at a distance and writing her undelivered love letters “for practice,” in case the real thing should come along. When Olav shoots a man in front of a child, he urges the child to forget his face but promises “I won’t come back and get you anyway.” And when the gangster’s beautiful wife is routinely abused by her lover, Olav decides to rescue her and kill both the lover and the husband instead. There are, however, consequences.
This is a tale about love and death and betrayal, and it is filled with Olav’s musings about all of these. Nesbo’s writing is often touching, even lyrical at times, but the book suffers from a serious flaw which is that it is predictable, trick ending notwithstanding. Its scenarios are contrived and its secondary characters cardboard, making Olav with his soft heart and recurrent fond memories of his mother more silly than poignant. I’d recommend waiting for Nesbo to bring out Harry Hole again.