Thursday, January 14, 2021

Review: HEADHUNTERS

HEADHUNTERS by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Lie. Roger Brown has it all. Clever and wealthy, he is the top man in his business, with a beautiful wife and a magnificent house. He also leads a criminal double life.

Steal. Enter Clas Greve. Not only is he the perfect candidate for a position with Roger's biggest client, he also owns one of the most sought-after paintings in the world.

Murder? Roger sees his chance to become rich beyond his wildest dreams and starts preparing his boldest heist yet. But his plans unravel in ways not even he could have predicted. Now the hunter has become the hunted.

In the midst of his star rising stratospherically at home and abroad thanks to his excellent crime series starring Oslo detective Harry Hole, Norwegian author Jo Nesbø took something of a swerve with this fast-paced 'beach read' style thriller set in the moneyed worlds of big business and art. It's a slick, fun tale that may not have the depth or social commentary of Nesbø's long-running series, but is quite entertaining in its own way. 

While Roger Brown earns plenty of money as a high-level corporate headhunter, finding top talent for big-paying businesses, that success isn't enough to fund his desired lifestyle. Art theft fills the gap, with Roger parlaying his inside knowledge of his candidate's personal and financial circumstances into forgery-for-original switcheroos. When Clas Greve, a man who owns a particularly prized painting, comes into the frame for the CEO slot at one of Roger's clients, Roger thinks all his Christmases have come at once. But Greve isn't quite what he seems, and a dangerous cat-and-mouse game ensues.

Filled with characters who carry the sheen of success but are rather despicable or dysfunctional in many ways, HEADHUNTERS is an intriguing thriller that blends heist tale and Nordic Noir. It has a few twists thrown in to separate it from the kinds of expectations you may carry from Oceans 11 or Drive-style heist films (incidentally, HEADHUNTERS was adapted into an enjoyable, BAFTA-nominated 2012 film itself, starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of later Game of Thrones fame). 

Brown isn't the most likable of protagonists, in fact he's an arrogant, cut-throat SOB with plenty to dislike, but Nesbø does a decent enough job hooking readers early so we're compelled to turn the pages even if we're not big fans of the main character. It's definitely worth continuing, as while things unfold you may find yourself strangely warming to anti-hero Roger, or at least caring what happens to him. It's a neat piece of storytelling by Nesbø, luring us in and making us care as the action intensifies.

A bit of a palate cleanser from the Harry Hole tales, but worth a read. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 


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