- The Kingdom, by Jo Nesbo. Harvill Secker. $32.99.
Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo is one of the superstars of Nordic Noir. His Harry Hole thrillers are amongst the best selling crime novels in the world. For many readers, the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, tenacious Hole is the ultimate detective, a fascinating anti-hero, as flawed as he is brilliant.
Nesbo seems fascinated by the role of the anti-hero, creating another in the narcissistic Roger Brown in Headhunters and now Roy Opgard in The Kingdom.
Roy lives on a mountain farm above the small, remote village of Artun in what Nesbo calls "Norwegian hillbilly country". There are certainly guns, knives, hunting, a sheriff and old American cars, Roy's obsession. Everyone in Artun knows everyone's business and gossip is rife.
Although Roy runs the service station in the village, he loves his mountain farm, which he considers his "wilderness kingdom". He has lived there alone for 15 years after his brother left to make his fortune in America.
Roy is a practical man of few words, respected in the village but with no close friends. Carl, however, is charismatic, articulate and persuasive.
As the novel begins, Carl returns, a successful businessman with an exotic wife and grandiose plans for the farm and the village. Shannon Alleyne Opgard is "white like snow that reflects light in such a way as to make it difficult to see the contours in it" with "flaming red hair" and the eyelid of one of her eyes "drooped like a half drawn blind".
Carl intends to build a hotel and spa on top of the mountain. His wife Shannon is an architect and she has designed a building, which will "mould itself into the landscape". Carl intends to fund the project with a Shared Liability Company, which will include the whole village.
Carl tells a disbelieving Roy, "the bankers will be drooling at the mouth for the chance to finance this whole thing because they've never been offered better security than a whole bloody village."
However, there are long-buried family secrets and a number of unrecovered bodies in the deep gully off the Geitesvingen hairpin bend at the entrance to the farm.
The Kingdom combines biblical elements with themes from both Greek and Shakespearian tragedies, told in an overly long narrative, which keeps looping back in time.
Nesbo had the opportunity to craft an apocalyptic ending in keeping with his usual style.
It's out of character for him to take a softer option and Nesbo fans will either find it disappointing or refreshing that, for some reason, that's the way he ends The Kingdom.