THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbø
Knopf; Movie Tie-In Edition 9/26/17
CBTB Rating: 5+++/5 (favorite book!)
The Verdict: gritty & gripping Nordic Noir with a cinematic edge
Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series is without a doubt my all-time favorite. Of this series, THE SNOWMAN (Book 7) has been my favorite series installment (and book in general!) for years now. So naturally, when the news broke that this book would be adapted into a film starring Michael Fassbender, I had to celebrate! In that spirit, I spent the month of September leading a virtual book club for this brilliant read in anticipation of the movie’s release this month. It was so much fun discussing THE SNOWMAN both with Nesbø newcomers and longstanding fans alike! I was utterly blown away by the reception this book club received; not only did I have a fantastic bunch of readers to discuss the book with, but my social media has been flooded with photos of Nesbø books from around the world - a selection of which you can view at the bottom of this post!
Because this wasn’t my first time reading THE SNOWMAN, this won’t be a traditional review - but I do want to highlight for you the reasons that THE SNOWMAN is my all-time favorite book, and share a bit about my experience re-reading this book that I love so much! PLUS: this post also features an “FAQ’s” section on the most common questions I receive about THE SNOWMAN - and my responses!
THE SNOWMAN film adaptation releases in the UK tomorrow (10/13/17), and in the US on 10/20/17.
One night, after the first snowfall of the year, a boy named Jonas wakes up and discovers that his mother has disappeared. Only one trace of her remains: a pink scarf, his Christmas gift to her, now worn by the snowman that inexplicably appeared in their yard earlier that day. Inspector Harry Hole suspects a link between the missing woman and a suspicious letter he’s received. The case deepens when a pattern emerges: over the past decade, eleven women have vanished—all on the day of the first snow. But this is a killer who makes his own rules . . . and he’ll break his pattern just to keep the game interesting, as he draws Harry ever closer into his twisted web. With brilliantly realized characters and hair-raising suspense, international bestselling author Jo Nesbø presents his most chilling case yet—one that will test Harry Hole to the very limits of his sanity.
I want to preface this whole review by saying: I am not a re-reader. When I find a book I love, I savor every single page, perhaps re-reading passages in the moment—but once that experience is over, it’s over for me. I don't want anything to mess up the magic of that first read, so I just don't re-read. Instead, I prefer to learn more about the author and inspiration behind the story—or collect tons of editions of that book! Anything I can do to immerse myself in the author's world, I will (for example, I even went to Oslo and visited the key locations from Nesboø's Harry Hole series!)—I just don't want anything to spoil that perfect first reading experience. Suffice it to say, when I decided to re-read of THE SNOWMAN in anticipation of its movie release, I felt a bit of trepidation. It’s not that I had any doubt in Nesbø as a storyteller—I’ve read every single one of his books, and know exactly what he’s capable of as an author. (He is my favorite author, after all!) But I had this irrational concern: what if I didn’t feel that same bit of magic that made me so devoted to this particular book within the Harry Hole series years ago? That inexplicable, fleeting perfection of reading a book that you know will forever be a favorite—does that feeling only happen when you’re reading a favorite book for the first time?
I had nothing to worry about - my adventure into re-reading simply couldn’t have gone better. Re-reading THE SNOWMAN was just as gripping, immersive, and utterly chilling as I could have hoped it would be; in fact, re-reading it this time around with my reviewer lens on gave me a whole new appreciation for just what makes this book so brilliant. That "perfect reading experience" feeling was very much still there—in fact, it might have been even stronger this time around. I knew it on a gut level when I first read THE SNOWMAN, but after two years spent reading and reviewing solely crime fiction, if anything I fell even harder for this story than I had before. Nesbo’s storytelling mastery is evident in every page and every sentence of this outstanding crime novel.
The Harry Hole books are superior police procedurals with a pitch-perfect blend of cinematic action and heartfelt character development, and THE SNOWMAN is the finest work from an author who is, simply put, great. But what exactly stood out to me during my re-read?
- Nesbø is does not rely on gimmicky “twists” or “reveals.” Yes, of course there is an ultimate reveal of The Snowman’s true identity, but going into this book already knowing that outcome did not take away from my reading experience in the least. Nesbø’s books never rely on those “out of left field” twists, where you know there’s just no way you could have pieced together the truth on your own. Nesbø’s writing is methodical and detail-oriented; knowing the killer’s identity from the get-go actually highlighted for me the mastery of Nesbø’s plotting, and allowed me to see the subtle hints that I totally, completely missed on my first read of this book. Nesbø manages create a trail of very logical breadcrumbs to lead readers to the killer… and yet he’s also brilliant at concealing these clues just enough to keep you in the dark.
- Nesbø’s character development is unparalleled. It goes without saying that the story’s main characters are superb: if you’re looking for a character who is multifaceted, troubled, sometimes frustrating, and always totally endearing, it just doesn’t get better than Harry Hole. What also struck me during this re-read is just how developed even the story’s “minor” characters are. In fact, I say “minor” in quotes because it doesn’t quite feel right to say that about any of the characters Nesbø puts forth in THE SNOWMAN—they each bring a unique element to the story, and one of them in particular (the mold man - see my FAQ’s below!) has even prompted massive debate among Nesbø readers.
- This book achieves that elusive balance between cinematic, action-packed thrills and methodical police procedural—a total testament to Nesbø as a writer. THE SNOWMAN is injected with a darkness that is genuinely chilling (in one interview, Nesbø explains how this book almost comes close to having horror elements in it), yet it also manages to simultaneously deliver a really excellent procedural with all the detailed investigative work that readers of this style of crime novel would expect. Striking this balance is no easy task, and Nesbø’s ability to deliver such a seamless blend is really outstanding. It’s this balance that first made me so captivated by THE SNOWMAN, but during my re-read (and after having read and reviewed what must now be hundreds of crime books since my first read of THE SNOWMAN,) I was struck once more by what an outstanding and widely-appealing genre-bend this thriller represents.
To sum this up: THE SNOWMAN is a brilliant piece of crime fiction, a masterful procedural, an unmissable character study, and a must-read.
I receive a ton of questions from readers about the Harry Hole books daily - most of them focused on THE SNOWMAN. Below are the questions I get most often, and my responses! Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions - I am all ears.
THE SNOWMAN is Book 7 in the Harry Hole series. Is it okay to read this book as a standalone?
Yes, you can read this book as a standalone. That being said, of course it’s always preferable to read a series in its intended order; there will be elements of character backstory or overarching series developments that you won’t know about if you start with this book, but the investigation central to THE SNOWMAN is a standalone, so it’s totally doable! Many of the readers I’ve spoken with have done exactly this, and found it totally readable on its own.
Should I read the book before I see the movie?
Yes!!! Absolutely. I’m always an advocate for reading books before seeing their film adaptations, but I think this is especially true with a crime novel. So much of what makes Nesbø’s Harry Hole series so amazing is witnessing main character Harry’s thought process as he puts together the pieces of the story’s central mystery - I would personally highly recommend experiencing this without any spoilers that the movie will inevitably give away! However, if you do end up watching the movie first, never fear - I’m confident it will still be worth your time to read the book of THE SNOWMAN as well. Nesbø’s writing is absolutely fantastic - it’s atmospheric and transportive, and even when you know the story’s ultimate outcome (like I did during my re-read!), there is still so much to appreciate and love about this book. Plus, there are always differences between books and their movie adaptations, so I’m sure you’ll have fun trying to spot those!
I read THE SNOWMAN as a standalone, and I want to keep reading Nesbo’s books. Which book should I pick up next?
For a full explanation of my thoughts on this topic, I would recommend checking out my Beginner’s Guide to Jo Nesbø. In short, after reading THE SNOWMAN you have two options. You can (and I would recommend this one!) start from the beginning of the series and read your way through - but (and this is explained in more detail in that Beginner’s Guide), I often recommend starting with Book 3, THE REDBREAST, rather than Book 1, THE BAT. Books 1 & 2 in the Harry Hole series are quite different, and are not the best representation of the absolute brilliance that the rest of the series has to offer! (Granted, Nesbø’s "less-good" books are still so much better than lots of crime fiction out there.) Personally, I was hooked on this series by the ending of THE REDBREAST, so I’d recommend starting there if you’re keen to start at the beginning of the series. Your other option (which will totally work, but won’t give you the fullest sense of Harry as a character) is to continue with the series from THE SNOWMAN on. (Your reading order will be: THE LEOPARD, PHANTOM, POLICE, THE THIRST).
And last but not least, from readers who HAVE read the book: What the actual heck is the deal with the “mold man” in this book?!
This is one of my favorite topics to discuss, and if you do a quick Google search you will discover that I’m most definitely not alone in this!! Nesbø fans from all over the world have tried puzzling this one out. (If you haven’t read the book yet, no worries - there are no spoilers here.) My personal opinion is that the “mold man” is a representation of the paranoia and hidden secrets that infest Harry’s life in THE SNOWMAN. No spoilers here, but if you’ve read this book you will know that there are a lot of “rotten” things harming Harry’s life from the inside out - whether that’s in personal relationships or in his own battle with his inner demons. My re-read of THE SNOWMAN reaffirmed my personal belief in this theory. That being said, I think the only person who knows the correct answer to this would be Nesbø himself! (Jo, if you’re reading this, we need to talk this through…)
Reader Photo Gallery
And last but certainly not least—I am so fortunate to be in daily contact with readers from around the world who are diving into Jo Nesbø’s books for the first time! Below is a little photo gallery sharing just a few of the many wonderful Nesbø photos I receive. (Note that these photos do not belong to me - I'm just sharing them in appreciation! Photo credit goes to the respective Instagram account reflected in each photo.) Many, many thanks to the readers who participated in my book club for THE SNOWMAN and who have shared these Nesbø photos with me on social media - you guys have been outstanding in your enthusiasm and support! I am so appreciative of each and every one of you. Here’s to you guys, and to Jo Nesbø’s outstanding books!
Thank you again to everyone who participated in my book club for THE SNOWMAN! I am beyond excited to see the movie adaptation of this book next week. I would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments, either about this book or its movie adaptation! xx A