Friday, December 09, 2011

Jo Nesbø, Headhunters


Headhunters, published recently by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard in Don Bartlett's translation, isn't a Harry Hole book and is in fact quite different from that famous series. First, it's fairly short (and the Hole books are real doorstops). Second, the main character is a somewhat unreliable narrator named Roger Brown (he's Norwegian, but his father was English). Roger is a corporate headhunter (though other kinds of headhunters do crop up) and he's very impressed with himself and his record of getting businesses to hire his candidates (in fact, his only shortcoming, in his eyes, is that he is indeed short, by Norwegian standards).

Roger has the perfect job and the perfect wife (the only fly in the ointment being that he has refused her request that they have a child). His reason is that he doesn't want to share her with anyone, not even his own child (and the flaw in that reasoning comes back to bite him). She runs an art gallery, and during a private viewing for a new show she introduces Roger to the perfect candidate for a job he (and several other headhunter agencies) is trying to fill.

So far so good--but warning: spoilers ahead. I hate the blurbs on the backs of paperbacks, because they frequently (and in this case) give away what would have been, for an un-forewarned reader, a pleasant discovery in the story. So my recommendation is: Don't read the back of the paperback, don't read the blurb on Amazon or elsewhere. Come to the book as unprejudiced as possible, to best enjoy the twists and turns (of which there are many). Before going on, I should only warn prospective readers that there is some disgusting stuff in the book, not so much violence (of which there is some, but less than in the Hole books), and more scatology of various sorts (disgusting aspects of human bodies).

So: on to the story. Roger has a hobby. He gets his clients to tell him, during interviews, what sort of art they own, and if he finds what he hears desirable, he steals it. His partner in crime works for an alarm agency frequently used by Roger's clients, and he arranges for his partner to turn off the alarms and cameras at convenient times. But Harry's day job, his night job, and his marriage all come clashing together and create a mess that it doesn't seem like he can crawl out of (a bit of the mess is telegraphed in the prologue to the book, in which Roger and several others are trapped in a wrecked car, upside down in the woods).

Setting aside the disgusting parts, Headhunters is very cleverly plotted and a fun read. Roger is not a nice person, but as a narrator he's good company, and he withhholds just enough information to allow the reader some surprises (only a very alert reader will catch some of them in advance). So for Harry Hole fans and others who haven't discovered Harry or don't fancy him, Headhunters is highly recommended. There's supposed to be a movie coming out, but so much of the book is in Roger's head, it's hard to imagine what might be preserved of the pleasures of the story (leaving only the action, including the nasty bits).

6 comments:

Bernadette said...

I disagree that Roger is good company as a narrator or that the book is much good (I was bored for most of it) but I like your review very much and you did remind me of one aspect I liked which was Roger's obsession with height - that was well done and funny.

And I do agree that blurb reading is a bad idea. Thanks for clearing up how a Norwegian ended up with such a thoroughly English name - I missed that nugget or couldn't remember it by the time I got to the end

Margot Kinberg said...

Thanks very much for this review. I've actually heard very mixed reviews of this one, so still not sure I'll read it. But I am glad to have your careful and thorough review of it - well done!

Glenn Harper said...

Thanks for the comment, Bernadette. I know what you mean about Roger, he and the plot are in some ways more than a bit juvenile. I think Nesbø is more of a particular taste (among readers) than is sometimes made clear among reviewers. But if you can make allowances I thought Headhunters was pretty good, once it began to pick up speed--though it's easy to see that lots of people may not be willing to make the allowances...

Sarah said...

I really like Jo Nesbo but wasn't fussed on this book at all. I think I will avoid his standalones for the moment.

Maxine said...

I thought this book was a blast. Did not like Roger either but for me that's the point, I thought it was a great satire on the follies of too much brand obsession! Agree on blurbs, product entries on Amazon etc, I've given up reading them long since.

mondal said...
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