Harvill Secker £11.99
Headhunters, By Jo Nesbo
Corrupt society, but in the best possible taste
Sunday 02 October 2011
Last winter I interviewed the Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo for these pages.
It was an entertaining and, I thought, an informative, encounter. After reading Headhunters, the latest of his novels to be translated, I began to wonder. It is not a part of the author's celebrated Harry Hole series but a stand-alone thriller set in the precarious worlds of high finance and fine art. The result is a masterclass in obfuscation and psychological parrying.
Roger Brown is the predator in question. "I am a headhunter," he declares pompously. "I am king of the heap." Roger prowls the corridors and boardrooms of the Norwegian CEO circuit looking for the right Corneliani-clad peg for each fiscally lined hole. He's bullish yet insecure, obsessed with stature, and with an ego in inverse ratio to his height. Essentially, he's a chippy little blighter with secrets bigger than his shoe size.
To avoid giving his wife, Diana, a child, he underwrites a contemporary art gallery for her to manage. Its debts quickly mount so Roger uses his professional credentials to scope out what can be filched from his candidate's art collections. However, when a Nazi-looted Rubens appears in his sights, what appears to be a boon soon drops Roger into waters as murky and deadly as the city's fjord.
Roger is a well-crafted, morally dubious chancer who remains oddly likeable owing to a nifty line in bitter observations. "I am at a complete loss to understand what it is that makes grown people spend money on whoring artists' embarrassing lachrymose versions of their beloved offspring," he says, taking in a family portrait while stealing a Munch lithograph from a client's house. "Do they like to see their guests blush?" Nesbo, himself a professional economist, tallies the financial with the personal. Even parking his car, Roger has to give us a status update. "My Volvo slipped into a line of cars all in the same price bracket".
After recent events, no one can be in any doubt of Norway's dark side and Nesbo wisely juxtaposes Oslo's shiny veneer with its rotten elements. Equally, the parallels between artistic worth and corporate value are neatly levied. "The world is full of people who pay serious money for bad pictures by good artists. And mediocre heads on tall bodies." Nesbo has that rare talent for turning the tables on readers, confounding expectations and revealing only what is intended. Just like one of Roger's sharper executives. Or, I suspect, like an author in control of an interview.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 2 50 books for students to read this summer: From Ernest Hemingway to Gillian Flynn
- 3 McDonald’s removes chicken nuggets from the menu in Hong Kong amid major food scare
- 4 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 5 Joey Barton and Yossi Benayoun become involved in Twitter row over Israel-Gaza conflict
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous movie
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey film stills
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps
50 Shades of Grey movie trailer declared sexy and sexist on Twitter
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia