Author Jo Nesbo Talks New Novel, Being Courted by Hollywood

Jo Nesbo Book Cover - P 2014
Courtesy of Knopf

Jo Nesbo Book Cover - P 2014

The writer of best-selling Norwegian crime fiction novel "The Son" shares how he feels about getting the "Hollywood treatment."

Best-selling Norwegian crime fiction writer Jo Nesbø was tired, but polite, during his phone interview from the offices of Knopf, his U.S. publisher, on May 13. It was the official publication date for his latest crime novel, The Son, a stand-alone mystery about fathers and sons, betrayal and vengeance, and sin and redemption: all familiar thematic stomping grounds for Nesbø.

The Son is already a best-seller in Norway and the U.K., and if history is any indication, it will also be a blockbuster in the U.S. Nesbø sells books: He’s not just Norway’s best-selling author, he’s one of the world’s best-selling authors. As of last November, a Jo Nesbø book in one of at least 40 languages is sold somewhere in the world every 23 seconds. Do the math and that works out to 3,756.5 books a day; 1,371,130 a year.

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Fans of Nesbø’s Harry Hole series of novels won’t be disappointed by this latest book. The familiar characters of Hole’s Police Murder Squad may be MIA, but the seamy underbelly of Oslo, redolent of hypocrisy and top-to-bottom corruption, is just as nasty as ever. Against this familiar Nesbø backdrop, Sonny Loftus -- in the quiet desperation that came in the wake of his policeman father’s confession of corruption and suicide -- becomes a professional scapegoat, exchanging confessions to, and receiving prison sentences for, murders he did not commit for a steady stream of heroin, to which he’s addicted. When Sonny finds out from another prisoner that his father was set up, all hell -- and Sonny -- break loose. With Sonny out from behind bars, bad things happen to bad people, but all for a good cause. Maybe. “Sonny,” says Nesbø, “is a total loner. He sees himself as a person with one motivation…to avenge his father.”

Hollywood has taken to Nesbø and then some. The Son was optioned before the manuscript was turned in. Norwegian paps got a thrill when Nesbø, already one of Norway’s biggest celebs, was spotted in his favorite Oslo restaurant with Channing Tatum, who is slated to star, co-direct and produce the film version. Martin Scorsese was attached to direct the film version of The Snowman until he withdrew about six months ago (Scorsese is still on board as an executive producer); the new Snowman director is Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), who signed on at the end of April. I Am Victor, a TV series, was shot but not yet released, and Warner Bros. bought Blood on Snow, which Nesbø wrote under the name Tom Johansen, about an unlikely love triangle involving a hitman who falls for his target -- who happens to be the wife of the man who hired him.

About his “Hollywood treatment,” Nesbø good-naturedly said, “I tell my agent to call me when they start filming”; beyond that, he’s satisfied with being a novelist and that the screenwriters will tell their version of his stories. It’s Nesbø’s consistent message on the subject. But as to the separate worlds that filmmaking and novels inhabit, using such TV series as The Wire as an example, Nesbø thinks the two realms are overlapping and getting to the point where “the novel can do what filmmaking can do, and filmmaking can do what a novel can do” in terms of storytelling.

Nancie Clare is co-creator of the podcast Speaking of Mysteries. Listen to her interview with Jo Nesbø here.