20 February, 2014
I like Jo Nesbo.
He mixes the sublime with the vulgar in a way that the best genre writers should. The best stuff, though, that elevates the material. It takes something taudry or cliched-- like murder and greed and theft-- and it turns it into high art. Michael Chabon does it. Donald Westlake did it. Stephen King certainly does it. So does Jo Nesbo.
The adaptation of Headhunters does not do this and while I could go on and on as to why that is the case, I do enough of that here already. This is about being positive. It's about how Jo Nesbo can turn out a good yarn*.
On my podcast episode about the Headhunters film I kept on perseverating on the idea that "the book was better." As a rule, I hate that phrase. It's lazy, it doesn't mean anything, and worse, it's pretentious. In this case, it happens to be true (which is the worst kind of cliche). While the movie a tolerable, competent thriller, the novel is an ecstatic celebration of that genre.
What makes it worth reading is the ending. It is not exceptional in its writing, Jo Nesbo, for all of his talent is not a Graham Greene or a Cormac McCarthy. Whether because of his translation** or because of his actual style, he's a straight shooter. What he excels at is not so much the prose as it is the form.
The back cover sells Headhunters as a Coen brothers like caper, which is rather disengenious as it's as straight as they come. There's a guy, he's a scum bag, and he commits crime. There is no irony. There is no distance. And there certainly isn't a tone (the Coen brothers, if anything, have that down). I don't now too much about the Norweigians, but I doubt that they have this dry of a humor. . . That is until the last chapter.
Until the last chapter where the narration changes and suddenly you realize that you haven't been reading a violent crime novel, but a comedy of errors. A joke, writ large, with the last chapter serving as the punchline. And what's more, as a twist, it works. It works really well. Because Jo Nesbo's been doing this sort of thing for a while. He knows his way around a murder or two. He also knows his way around a joke.
So, avoid the movie. Read the book. And if you're desperate for a Norwegian movie go watch Trollhunter instead. I mean, I guess.
I read Headhunters smack between Ledfeather and The Long Goodbye, which are two. . . very different books. I also read it on a road trip with my dad. Like the best crime books (the Stark series leaps to mind), it moves at a clipped pace. I doesn't have to fight to keep your attention, because it doesn't give you the time to get bored or annoyed. There's no ruminating, there's just action.
The trick Nesbo plays with Headhunters, especially at such a point in the story is something worth experiencing. . .or at least something to distract you from how boring Wyoming if it ever comes down to it.
THE AD GAUNTLET
I wrote a couple of comic book stories. They're collected in The Freshman Fifteen and Old College Comics Presents along with a lot of other stories from people much more talented than myself. I'm rather proud of the fact that these books came together and I am even more proud of the fact that they are pretty good.
You can listen to more of this type of nonsense on White Guys, Square Glasses. We sometimes talk about crime and we mostly talk mad shit. We just underwent a format change, so we'll be tackling movies like Headhunters more often. . . but hopefully, you know, like, better.
You can also follow my twitter. Hey. It's all optional. Nobody's forcing you, here.
*He's also the only point of connection I have with this attractive Norweigian woman that comes into my work, but that's neither here nor there.
**Then again, I've never made that excuse for Haruki Murakami, but then again, who knows?