Jo Nesbø’s latest thriller is a classic

The Norwegian noir writer provides his take on Shakespeare’s MacBeth

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Jo NesbøThe best-selling Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbø was the perfect choice to rewrite one of literature’s most famous tales of “murder most foul,” Macbeth, for the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

Nesbø sets the well-known tragedy in the 1970s in an unnamed dying industrial town ruled by powerful drug lords who easily find politicians to corrupt. Most of his characters keep their original or similar names. The plot is basically the same but does veer occasionally into new areas.

Macbeth first appears as a young, relatively honest, and not excessively ambitious member of the local police force. His life begins its downward spiral when three prostitutes who work for Hecate, the ruling drug lord, prophesize that he will rise to the position of chief commissioner.

When he tells this news to Lady, she is elated and does not have the patience to let nature take its course. She immediately leaps into action to fulfill the prophecy and convinces Macbeth to go along with her nefarious plans. Their first victim is Duncan, the current chief commissioner. They then set their sights on Malcolm, Banquo, Fleance, Duff, and others. They are thirsty for power, and no one who is not loyal to them can stand in their way.

It is, of course, clear from the beginning how the book will end—if one is familiar with Shakespeare’s play—but it is still interesting to see how Nesbø shapes the story. If one is not familiar with the original, some parts might seem rather bizarre, such as the explanation of why Macbeth does not fear Duff (Macduff) because he was born of a woman.

Some readers may be disturbed by the rather frequent scenes of violence, but Nesbø has written an intriguing story with well-developed, credible characters. Despite its length, the action-filled plot keeps the reader engaged.

In addition to the paper and ebook versions, an excellent audiobook is available, narrated by Scottish actor and singer Euan Morton.

Books previously published in the Hogarth Shakespeare Series include The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale) by Jeanette Winterson, Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew) by Anne Tyler, and Hag-seed (The Tempest) by Margaret Atwood.

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.

This article originally appeared in the April 5, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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