Review: The Snowman by Jo Nesbø

Summary: One night, after the first snowfall of the year, Jonas wakes up and discovers that his mother has disappeared. Only one trace of her remains: a pink scarf 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.
Genre: mystery, crime, thriller
Rating: 4/5 stars

Crime procedurals aren’t usually my favorite in the mystery/thriller genre, but every once in a while I come across one that completely blows me away. The Snowman captivated me from the very beginning, and what’s better is how strongly it held my attention throughout. There were some minor issues that prevented me from rating this at a perfect five, and I’ll get to those in a bit, but first let’s touch on what I liked.

The Snowman is, in some ways, a typical crime procedural novel. There’s a silent, strong cop who is so good at his job that he intimidates others. He sees things that the other cops don’t, and they often think he’s quite crazy for his approach until he comes around and leads them to the killer. Harry Hole, our main protagonist, is the spitting image of what I described. He is borderline Too Good, but we can’t help but love him anyway. This is the seventh book in the Harry Hole series, so if you read this as a standalone, you might not fully understand the relationships with some of the other characters. However, you can still appreciate his relationship with his ex’s son, which is heartwarming and shows that he isn’t just a burly cop with an attitude. Whenever Harry is left to his own devices, he’s generally emotional, which feeds life into his character and takes him away from being the cliched trope most often found in crime procedurals. Harry is gritty, but has heart.

This book also stuck with the trope of the killer having some personal tie to the main cop, leaving clues for him and targeting him so that he’s forced to solve the case quickly. I’m usually bored by this, but The Snowman does a great job of keeping this interesting. Harry knows he’s being hunted by a serial killer, and he traces enough clues to one person of interest, only that person couldn’t have been the killer, so maybe it’s a different person, or was it the first person? And just when you think Harry has finally solved the case, just when the killer has been revealed, there’s a big twist that completely rips everything you thought you knew to shreds, and you’re back to square one.

But here’s the thing: if you’ve read enough mystery/thriller/crime/etc. books, you’ll notice the patterns, you’ll be on the lookout throughout the story, you’ll never truly accept the story for the way it’s going, because you’ve read enough to know that couldn’t be the big twist, the giant final reveal. So for rookies (or just people who don’t take books so seriously all the time – can’t relate), I’m sure this had them thrown all over the place. For me, though, I was second-guessing every character, looking for clues that they could be the killer, and that meant I guessed correctly before the halfway point of the book. That didn’t take the fun away, though. I loved watching the story unfold until the killer was revealed.

On top of the book’s slight predictability was the struggle for pronunciation of proper nouns. This book was written by a Norwegian author, and the book takes place there. There were times I had difficulty pronouncing people’s names, their titles, and quite a few locations. This is, of course, a personal problem that other people might not run into, but I did feel that it slowed down my reading by a little bit.

I’m acutely aware that the negative aspects of this book were more personal than anything to do with the actual story, writing, plot, etc. and I’d suggest not letting those get in the way of how gripping and intriguing this book really is.

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