Jo Nesbo talks about ‘The Son,’ rock stardom and rock climbing

jo nesbo photo
Jo Nesbo is a household name in Norway.
Credit: Jorn H. Moen

Jo Nesbo is a literary rock star in Norway; he’s also actually a rock star for the band Di Derre. Nesbo is most famous for his Harry Hole crime series, but he has also written children’s books and is currently working on an adaptation of “Macbeth.”

Nesbo’s new standalone book, “The Son,” tells the story of a young heroin addict in prison who is caught in a web of high-level corruption in Oslo. We caught up with Norway’s Renaissance man to learn more about “The Son” and his upcoming projects.

Your books are translated into English. Do you feel like your American readers would have a hard time getting all of the nuances?

The more locally you write, the more globally you communicate. Everyone knows what it’s like to be in a small town or what it’s like to grow up in the country and relate to your environment or to your neighbors. You might not get the specific cultural reference, but you’ll get that there is a reference there and understand its nature.

How do you feel being a rock star prepared you to be a novelist?

Writing lyrics is a very good school for writing a novel. You would think writing three verses and a refrain for a three-minute song isn’t much of a school for writing 500-page novels, but it’s more or less the same job. You have to find a way to trigger your listeners’ imagination and make them [read] the book and find out what the story is in the lyrics because you can only give so much input through words. For books, it’s all about trusting your readers and realizing you can only give general directions to guide your readers — you can’t describe everything.

Everyone calls you the next Stieg Larsson, but I read that you don’t like that comparison.

No, I guess what I said was that I see the need for people to communicate to someone else something about the nature of your books or writing. Stieg Larsson and I are both from Scandinavia, but I don’t think we’re similar as writers. He is probably more influenced by traditional Scandinavian crime writing back from the ’70s and ’80s with a political agenda, which was the tradition for Scandinavian crime novels. I’m probably more influenced by American crime fiction with hard-boiled detectives.

the son jo nesbo
“The Son” follows a heroin-addled prisoner.
Credit: Provided

But “The Son” delves into corruption as well. You don’t consider that political?

When I write about corruption, it’s not necessarily a portrait of the conditions in the Norwegian police force or political life. Just as this book came out, we had possibly the biggest Norwegian corruption case ever that just came out. A police officer was arrested and it could have been taken out of a Harry Hole book or “The Son.”

But I see myself as an entertainer. I think politics are entertaining and I will use them, but just for the use of suspense in the books.

Do you think this Scandinavian crime trend with Stieg Larsson books and “The Killing” has really just been invented by the media?

I think first and foremost what Scandinavian crime fiction has in common is that it’s written by a Swede, a Dane or a Norwegian. Apart from that, it’s hard for me to see. When a book has a “Scandinavian light,” I don’t know what they’re talking about.

You’re rewriting “Macbeth.” How is that going?

I’m not going to rewrite Shakespeare; I’m going to write a novel based on the story. I’ll probably set it in a different time and it will probably not be about kings.

It’s such a macabre story, and I can see how the narrative could work in one of your crime novels.

I think the point of asking me to do “Macbeth” is not to see how close can Jo Nesbo get to Shakespeare; it’s about how close can Jo Nesbo get to Jo Nesbo using Macbeth as a vehicle.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a rock climbing route outside of Oslo, and apart from that, I’m working on the first book under a pen name Tom Johansen called “Blood on Snow.” There’s a movie in Norway right now based on the first of my children’s novels and they’re going to make a new movie next year, so I’m helping a bit with the script for the second movie.

You’re a rock star, a children’s book writer, a rock climber and a crime novelist. What’s your hardest job?

I don’t have hard jobs. I have a daughter who’s 14 years old; that’s a hard job. Not even that is a very hard job. I had many hard jobs in my life, but right now I don’t have any.

Want to see Jo Nesbo talk in person? You can at powerHouse Arena on May 12 at 7 p.m. where Nesbo and Sonny Mehta will be in conversation, moderated by Laura Miller. Tickets are available here.

Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark


Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…


OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…


MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.


De Blasio, Bratton defend city's efforts after Eric…

Mayor Bill de Blasio justified the city's response to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while in police custody earlier this month.


Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."


'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.


'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."


TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.


Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.


Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”


Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.


Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…


Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.


Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…


NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.


The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.