By: Jo Nesbø
Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter, and he’s a master of his profession. But one career simply can’t support his luxurious lifestyle and his wife’s fledgling art gallery. At an art opening one night he meets Clas Greve, who is not only the perfect candidate for a major CEO job, but also, perhaps, the answer to his financial woes: Greve just so happens to mention that he owns a priceless Peter Paul Rubens painting that’s been lost since World War II—and Roger Brown just so happens to dabble in art theft. But when he breaks into Greve’s apartment, he finds more than just the painting. And Clas Greve may turn out to be the worst thing that’s ever happened to Roger Brown.
Jo Nesbø is pretty popular in the Scandinavian thriller genre at the moment and I first found out about this book after seeing a trailer for its 2011 movie adaptation starring Aksel Hennie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. So I decided to pick this book up for my Kobo; after reading as something as heavy as Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings (review), I was in the mood for something different. Contains some spoilers ahead!
From the first page of this novel you’re transported to Roger’s world, his take on everything in his life as well as the financial situation that he’s in. He’s a very particular man with a very rigid set of opinions (about children, about his wife, about certain social activities), all of which reflect his job as a “headhunter”, a man who scopes out potential candidates for top business positions for companies. It’s a very meticulous process, all of which is revealed through Roger’s narrative. But it’s also clear that he’s a man with a lot of issues to overcome. For example, because he’s not tall like everyone else, he has to make up for it by being good at what he does. He also has certain relationship issues; although he loves his wife, Diana, very much and would do everything to please her, he doesn’t want to share her with anyone, including a potential child. He also has some unresolved issues with his parents that he never really confronted, which in a way gives the reader some insight on why he made some of the decisions he had made in the past. I think his journey towards facing some of these self-doubts is the best story arc in the novel because you really learn a lot about Roger over the course of his experiences.
Having Roger narrate the course of events was also an interesting choice not only because we learn a lot about the character this way but it also drives home the fact that he can be an unreliable narrator. Halfway through the novel, there’s one particular event that happens that left me rather annoyed at Roger because it was done without any deep explanation as to why he came to that conclusion. It just made no sense other than the idea that he was angry beyond all chance of forgiveness and in a way just ended his character development there. However, by the end of the novel, the reader is made aware of the true course of events. In a way it shouldn’t have worked but it does draw out the tension to the conclusion.
The other plots concerning Clas Greve and the painting and the economic espionage were also interesting and really throws Roger Brown’s seemingly orderly life into absolute chaos. No kidding when the blurb says that “Clas Greve may turn out to be the worst thing that’s ever happened to Roger Brown” because Roger’s life really becomes a nightmare. Roger is no Jason Bourne or James Bond and he’s practically running on adrenaline in trying to out-maneuver Clas in his own game. The economic espionage storyline made complete sense in this context, especially given that Roger is a headhunter, although the storyline involving the art becomes a bit of a background filler until the end. I should note that I never quite get why Clas was the way he was beyond his personality of really going all out when tasked with something; he obviously experienced some really horrific things in his life but I guess because we don’t get his perspective the way we do with Roger, some of his motivations can be left obscure to the reader as the plot moves along.
Overall, Headhunters was a pretty thrilling read. Roger’s narrative made matters especially interesting and there were some rather inappropriately funny moments, namely thanks to his wry take on things. I should note that the translation from Norwegian to English was pretty good; there was not a moment where it sounded funny or unclear, even with that little perspective twist occurred. As a solo novel, it was a good introduction to Jo Nesbø’s works; perhaps I will check out his two thriller series one of these days. I would recommend this novel to anyone who’s into thrillers and interesting character development in novels.
(Whoo, and now I can check out the movie adaptation!)