Nordic Noir: Catching Oslo's Killer In 'Devil's Star' A serial killer is on the loose in Norway, leaving his victims with mysterious, star-shaped, red marks on their bodies. It's up to hard-drinking, crime-fighting detective Harry Hole to track down the murderer in novelist Jo Nesbo's Scandinavian thriller.
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Nordic Noir: Catching Oslo's Killer In 'Devil's Star'

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Nordic Noir: Catching Oslo's Killer In 'Devil's Star'

Nordic Noir: Catching Oslo's Killer In 'Devil's Star'

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The Norwegian author Jo Nesbo did not always write thrillers. He was a stockbroker and a musician before turning into an award-winning crime writer. His book "The Devil's Star" begins with what seems to be an everyday description of an apartment house in Oslo with its everyday leaks and drips, but on this day the ceiling is dripping blood, not water.

A serial killer is on the loose, leaving dead women with odd, star-shaped red diamonds on their bodies and it's up to one troubled detective to solve the case. Jo Nesbo joins me now from the studios of NRK in Oslo. Welcome to the show.

Mr. JO NESBO (Author, "The Devil's Star"): Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I'm Americanizing your name because I tried it and miserably failed to pronounce it. But before we do...

Mr. NESBO: Yeah, (unintelligible).

WERTHEIMER: ...before we do anything else I want to know how do we pronounce the name in Norwegian of your detective hero?

Mr. NESBO: Oh, my detective hero. That's Harry Hole. But...


Mr. NESBO: Yeah, that's pretty good actually. I've heard worse.

WERTHEIMER: When you know that there's a whole series of these novels, as I have read there are, what I always wonder is am I picking this story up in the middle?

Mr. NESBO: There is a storyline concerning the main character, Harry Hole, but also the books are written as standalones. You can start anywhere in the series. But there are bonuses for the loyal reader, to put it that way.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, the thing that is so striking about this man is that he seems to be pretty good at what he does as - he's a policeman, but he is miserable. And he's a miserable, horrible drunk.

Mr. NESBO: I really like the idea of the old hard-boiled American detective placed in Oslo and at the present time. But I also wanted to have - give him an Achilles' heel. Harry, he can't function when he starts drinking. He's - that is sort of his Kryptonite. But I think that his work is what keeps him going.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the central plot here is that Harry suspects that he is dealing with a serial killer. And in the course of trying to solve this thing, the police formed a taskforce and they have meetings. And at one of their meetings, they have a psychologist who comes in to talk to them about what a serial killer is.

Could you just read from the middle of page 156?

Mr. NESBO: (Reading) The most characteristic trait of the serial killer is that he's American. Only God, and perhaps a couple of psychology professors at Blindern, knows why. That's why it is interesting that the people who knows most about serial killings - the FBI and the American legal profession - this thing was between two types of serial murderer: the psychopath and the sociopath.

WERTHEIMER: Now, this is - I know because I've read the book - a big fat hint. But what, if anything, the serial killer is an American? Do you think that's true? Has there ever been a serial killer in Norway?

Mr. NESBO: Oh, there has but...


Mr. NESBO: Well, you don't know because often they do not get caught. But actually we have also exported one of them to America. So, in your history, about I think 100, 150 years ago, there was a very famous serial killer, a female serial killer in the United States.

WERTHEIMER: Well, it was good of you to send her to us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Now, one of the things I'm interested in is why you think that what we've been calling in the United States Nordic Noir is so popular now?

Mr. NESBO: I think that Scandinavians are secretive. They aren't as open as they are in perhaps the United States and southern European countries. So, it's a tradition from the Norwegian playwrighter Henrik Ibsen, for example. He always wrote about people, you know, who had secrets in their family life and in their private life. And what often happened during the play was that the secrets were revealed during the play. And, I mean, that's what happens in crime stories also. So, in that respect, I feel that Henrik Ibsen was the first crime writer in Scandinavia.

WERTHEIMER: Let me just ask you one more question about your hero, Harry Hole. "The Devil's Star," he has a very terrible time going through this very complicated crime and his very complicated personal life, and his professional life is a mess. If I buy another one of your books, am I going to find Harry in equally horrible, miserable shape?

Mr. NESBO: I wish I could have told you that if you read one more book everything is going to be fine. Some things are going to be fine but not everything, you know? His life is very much a rollercoaster. But things does get a little better in the next novel. In the novel after that, I'm not so sure.

WERTHEIMER: Jo Nesbo is an author. His novel, "The Devil's Star" is now out in English. Thank you very much for talking to us.

Mr. NESBO: Thank you for having me.

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