Versatile Nesbø (The Son, 2014, etc.) switches gears yet again in this chilly whisper of a novella: a hit man’s account of a job gone fatally wrong.
Christmastide 1977. As the Norwegian days draw ever shorter, Olav Johansen, who in Smith’s translation comes across as touchingly sensitive in his banality, reflects on his limitations. He can’t drive a getaway car, execute a successful robbery, or have anything to do with drugs or prostitution, and he’s dyslexic to boot. The only thing he can do consistently and successfully is kill people—a skill that’s made him very useful to Oslo heroin kingpin Daniel Hoffmann. But Hoffmann’s latest request to his fixer is disturbing indeed: He wants Olav to fix his trophy wife, Corina. If he agrees, Olav will know far too much about his boss for comfort; if he refuses, he’ll know almost just as much, putting himself in instant danger. So he temporizes, accepting the commission and settling in to watch the Hoffmann apartment. Soon enough he sees his target getting regular visits from a lover who beats and attacks her brutally. Thinking it over, Olav decides to alter the terms of the commission unilaterally, and disaster promptly ensues. The only way he can save himself, Olav decides, is to offer to fix Hoffmann himself for the Fisherman, an upstart rival in the heroin business. He’s well-aware that this plan has its problems. In fact, it turns out to have additional problems he hasn’t suspected, though many seasoned readers will be ahead of him here.
A Nordic noir updating of James M. Cain’s Love’s Lovely Counterfeit (1942) with an equally sweet-natured killer at its improbably soft center.