- 23 Sep 20
The scars of the past resurface in small town Scandinavia. This will probably sell a few copies…
Despite the repeated prompting of good pals who are in the know, last year’s Knife – or Kniv if you’re the kind of person who insists on telling everyone how you make your own pasta – was the first Jo Nesbo book I actually read. It was marvellous, so I was delighted when this one landed through the door, with a considerable thud. I was mildly disappointed to find the plot did not again concern Harry Hole, Nesbo’s dark, battered, Kripos detective, but this passed quickly once I sat down with the thing.
You probably knew that parts of Norway experience a phenomenon during the summer they call the midnight sun, caused by the earth rotating at a tilted axis relative to the sun, resulting in sunlight twenty-four hours a day. Well, you wouldn’t know that from Nesbo’s work which is as dark as a coal mine during a power cut. (“Just lovely, Carty. That didn’t feel forced at all.” – Ed). A dog is shot and then has his throat cut to put him out of his misery in the first couple of pages of The Kingdom, so even if his name wasn’t on the front cover, you could still hazard a guess as to who you were dealing with.
I must thread carefully here, as spoilers would ruin it on you, but the plot concerns a now grown-up Roy Opgard, who as a young boy took the necessary decision to end that dog’s suffering. He’s running a service station and living simply – he prepares instant coffee using water from the hot tap because “coffee’s coffee. Water’s water.” His long departed younger brother Carl returns from the Americas in a flash car with a beautiful Barbadian wife, Shannon. It was Carl who accidentally shot the dog, and Roy has been looking after him ever since. Carl has plans to build a hotel on the brother’s land, which promises easy millions for the pair of them, although his notion of a shared liability option where everyone in the village makes out like a bandit seems too good to be true.
Nesbo expertly paints small town boredom and gossip, which, it would appear, is the same no matter what flag you’re standing under. Grete Smitt, who runs the beauty salon, is the local busybody. She was best friends with Mari Aas, the daughter of a prominent local council member, before she slept with Carl who happened to be going out with Mari at the time. Mari is now married to journalist Dan Krane, who is suspicious of Carl’s methods and motives. We also meet local sheriff Kurt Olsen, son of Sigmund Olsen, who, in the first of Roy’s flashbacks, questions the Opgards about the car accident that took the lives of their parents. Their father had been obsessed with America and accordingly paid local shady car dealer Willum Willumsen over the odds for a past-its-prime Cadillac DeVille, a car that failed to stop at the edge of Huken, a deep cave/hole at the edge of their property, killing both himself and his wife. The two sons then pretty much fend for themselves, with Roy learning the car repair trade from his uncle and Carl taking off to study business abroad with a scholarship.
We know that Roy is prone to violence; we can tell that Carl is full of shit, and we are sure – because it’s Nesbo - that the best-laid plans will be dashed, and bad things will happen. The dust jacket promises “a lifetime of dark secrets” and there’s little chance of Penguin being done for false advertising here. Foolishly, about one hundred or so pages into this five-hundred-plus page epic, I wondered how Nesbo was going to stretch it all out. I need not have worried, however, as The Kingdom has more twists and turns than that Cú Chulainn rollercoaster down in Tayto Park that my daughter forced me to ride. Just as one crisis seems resolved, another one rears up on the following page, resulting in lost hours of sleep as you hasten towards the end. Nesbo has not sold over forty-five million books and been translated into over forty languages by accident. This is a masterfully crafted novel, which continually pulls the rug out from under you.