New to The Murder Room blog, we’re very proud to introduce Barry Forshaw’s crime desk, where the writer, journalist and crime expert will give us a glimpse into the world of crime fiction. Enjoy!
WHERE IS JO NESBO?
The look on the woman’s face was one of barely concealed panic. As the speeches by the various dignitaries launching the Manchester Literature Festival rolled on (rather lengthily), I was drawn aside by one of the organisers. She knew that I was shortly to be speaking to Jo Nesbo in the Victorian splendour of the banqueting room of Manchester Town Hall; her grip on my arm was tight and her voice was nervous as she whispered to me ‘Is he here yet?’
It was 20 minutes or so before the sold-out event was due to start and I’d already glimpsed the lengthy queue outside waiting to be ushered into the hall (clearly they were all there for me rather than the Norwegian writer of The Snowman and Police), but so far as I could see the man himself had not arrived yet, and perhaps the worried organiser had a point. Should l be getting worried too?
‘My speech is supposed to be a speech of welcome,’ she continued, ‘and how can I do it if he’s not here?’ Perhaps she needed to improvise, I suggested, but her frown told me this was a dusty answer, and she wandered away in slightly distraught fashion. The timing was bad; as she walked off, I was beckoned to from a side door – the King of Scandinavian crime fiction had arrived (like his copper, Harry Hole, in the nick of time).
I’d done events with the charismatic Jo before, and audiences love him, so I wasn’t apprehensive about this one – although a little of the festival woman’s nervousness had communicated itself. That all evaporated as soon as I saw the smiling Jo, casually dressed as usual, and we were taken for our microphone tests.
In the green room, it seemed to me that Jo was a little tired – as well he might be. The nationwide tour for the new book, Police, had been, to say the least, punishing (from London to Manchester and – after our event – Ireland and Scotland), and I wondered if the demands of shining for audiences and bookshop queues was taking its toll on the very fit-looking Nesbo.
Needless to say, onstage, the adrenaline of an enthusiastic audience soon had him on customary form – and this really was a rock star event (something Jo was used to from his previous career as a highly successful singer with his band – ‘Those Guys’ is his translation of their name). I noticed the Festival organiser in the audience beaming, her hastily customised speech having gone well, even sans Jo.
And then it was time for the signings (rather more copies of Jo’s Police were sold than of my Nordic Noir . . . I can’t even bring myself to type the shaming ratio) and then it was time for the photos.
Coincidentally, Jo and I had colour-coordinated in black shirts. I’d worn mine to maintain the illusion of slimness – something that Jo doesn’t have to simulate. For the first time in my life, I felt like an ageing rocker – but without the prodigious drug intake and copious sexual indulgence.
Although I’m obliged to always be reading a slew of new books for newspaper and magazine coverage, I sometimes pick older novels that I’ve enjoyed from my shelves. Ironically, when Ian Rankin’s early espionage novel Watchman first appeared, no one paid the slightest attention (unlike Alan Moore’s plural Watchmen), and it sold only a few hundred copies.
Since then, of course, Ian Rankin’s much-acclaimed Rebus novels have propelled him to the top of the tree. While the Holy Trinity of P. D. James, Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters vie for the laurels of Britain’s Crime Queen, there’s little serious argument as to who is both the bestselling and most acclaimed of male crime writers, and this new lease of life for Rankin’s early thriller shifted a hell of a lot more copies than when it first appeared.
But did it deserve to? Was this now just a chipping from the Master’s block, or a good novel in its own terms? The Rebus books, with their atmospheric urban Scottish locales, have an ironclad following, but Rebus fans found something very different here. Watchman is actually a very impressive piece of writing, even if the shades of other heavyweight writers in the genre – Graham Greene, Gerald Seymour – hover in the background.
Barry Forshaw’s books include British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia and The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, along with books on Italian cinema, film noir and the first UK biography of Stieg Larsson, The Man Who Left Too Soon. He also edits crime fiction website Crime Time, the go-to site for crime fiction news and reviews.
All the books mentioned above are available to buy now.