A standalone Scandi thriller from accomplished author Jo Nesbø is normally something to be savoured. His earlier Headhunters is one of my all-time favourite crime novels, so I had high hopes for this new tale of Norwegian intrigue. And in many ways it’s every bit as carefully crafted as you’d expect – yet I struggled to get into the story and found myself mildly unfulfilled at its finale.
The first quarter is a definite slog. There’s a lot of back story to explain – the brothers with murky secrets in their past; the claustrophobic small-town community quietly seething with perceived slights, romantic rivalries and deep-seated suspicions – which makes it heavy going. With all that established, Nesbø then sneakily subverts our expectations with several splendid narrative zigzags which reinvigorated my interest. Just as you think the story is heading in a certain direction…
…it ploughs a very different furrow. There’s murder, incest, sibling rivalry, betrayal, long-lost love, blackmail and more in a meticulously constructed web of misdirection. The middle of this book is most definitely the best bit, where the pace picks up and we start to see exactly how ruthless each character can be.
At its core, this is a morality tale where an old misdeed cannot be undone – even if the original motivation was pure. The consequences of that act come back to haunt all the participants and a cascade of deadly dominos tumble down the decades. It’s one of those plots where you want to tell the protagonist that the only way out of a deep hole is to stop digging! Think Fargo, or the very excellent In Order Of Disappearance film.
Yet for all its intricate cleverness, there’s something missing from The Kingdom. It has little of the wicked delight displayed in Nesbø’s earlier efforts, and I found it hard to engage with any of the central characters. It ends appropriately enough but with little flourish, not with a bang but a whimper. If this had been written by an indie author then I’d be generous and give a full four stars, but from such an established writer I thought it could’ve been a lot better…
This is most definitely Nordic noir, and it has that faintly depressing feel of a gloomy winter’s day. None of the crisp delight of crunching through bitter, bright hoarfrost, but a muddy trudge to nowhere special. If that was the experience the author intended to communicate then he definitely succeeded.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Kingdom by Jo Nesbø is available at Amazon
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