Nesbo thrillers beautiful, cruel

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Nesbo thrillers beautiful, cruel

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Photo by Kwon Hyeok-jae

Crime fiction may not be the most respected literary genre, but it sure does sell. One of the best-regarded crime writers these days is Norway’s Jo Nesbo, a former rock star who turned novelist in 1997.

One of Nesbo’s most popular characters is Harry Hole, an alcoholic police officer from Oslo who has been the subject of 10 books so far.

“The more local things you write about, the more globally and universally you communicate,” said the author, explaining how the fictional police officer from Scandinavia has come to have fans across the world.

“If you stay true to your character, everybody can relate.”

The author recently came to Korea to promote the Korean translations of two of his books, “Nemesis” and “The Bat,” and talked to the local media about his work in the process.



Q. Why did you choose to write crime novels?

A. When you write crime fiction, you can have some special and intimate dialogues with readers. It’s almost like interactive storytelling. The game is that you give readers information that they need before the investigators in the book to solve the crime, so they will pay extra attention to every line you write. So it’s like I’m trying doing something with my left hand while I’m doing another trick with my right hand, so they have to be careful which hand to follow. You don’t have such games with your readers in any other genre. That is the part I fell in love with crime novels.



Does it feel like you were an overnight success?

No, it has been more like a slow burn. I have always had a small but very loyal readership. Hardcore Harry Hole fans, they have been my ambassadors. They have marketed the books. People asked me why the sudden success, and I answer that I have been writing and publishing my books for decades. It’s not something that just happened but gradually happened. It was mind blowing when my book “Cockroaches,” originally published 16 years ago, actually went to No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.



How do you come up with your villains?

Most writers work a bit like actors. Every character you are portraying, you have to find a little bit of the character within yourself. You have to look inside yourself and find things that you can use for your characters. If I were to write about a psychopath, I have to try to find my inner psychopath to drag out some sort of empathy. I would also find characters from real life, not because a particular person did some evil acts. When I see people at cafes, I just start thinking about them, about what makes them get up in the morning, what they are interested in, and then I start to imagine the characters. I do this automatically when I’m coming up with stories. Many of my bad guys and good guys have been made up for many years, long before I knew I would use them in a book.



Do you incorporate rare diseases as symbols to represent the ugliness of life?

I think life is fantastic; it’s cruel but beautiful. So I would like to see all aspect of people’s lives. As I use many scenes of limbs being cut off, people have asked me if I have a fear of amputation. There should be a reason I include such scenes, but I don’t know if I want to know why. I don’t like to analyze it too much.



Do you try to represent the underprivileged in your books?

I always see some beauty in [the underprivileged]. I get drowned in sadness, not disasters or crises. It just fascinates me when I think about those sad stories behind people and how each individual copes with it.



Where is your favorite place to write?

My favorite place to write is at the airport. It just gives me the feeling that I’m doing two things at once when I write on the plane or at the airport as I travel. It feels like I’m stealing time. If it’s too quiet, I can’t really write. I have this big desk in my apartment, which is too perfect for me to write. I prefer to go to a coffee house where I have to fight to get a table and it gets cold whenever the door is open. When it feels like a privilege to write, that’s when it becomes fun for me. Writing has to feel like playing, not like work.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]


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