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The Snowman


The Snowman Cover

ISBN13: 9780307742995
ISBN10: 0307742997
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. The Snowman begins with a disturbing scene set in 1980, more than two decades before the events that follow.  How does the opening establish the mood of the rest of the novel? What recurring themes and motifs does it introduce?

2. In what ways does the investigative team—Magnus Skarre, Katrine Bratt, and Bjorn Holm—represent the different viewpoints and skills involved in police work? What do the details about their demeanor and interests (for example, the description of Bratt and the profile of Holm) as well as their reactions to Harry’s presentation of the case convey about their personalities? 

3. Rakel, Skarre, and Hagen offer succinct descriptions of Harry and what motivates him. Can Harry’s “anger and the desire for revenge” and his history of alcoholism be attributed to his experiences as a police detective or are they personal flaws?

4. Do you agree with Hagen’s comparison between Harry and military leaders and his assertion that "There’s a strong social urge in man to be needed. . . . You want this case to be special. You want it so much that you can see the blackest of the black"?

5. What does Harry’s relationship with Rakel and especially with Oleg reveal about him? What personal principles, emotions, and values underlie his attachment to them? What incidents in the investigation also capture this side of him?

6. To what extent do the police rely on standard assumptions about the disappearance or deaths of women in their approach to solving the crimes? Do the circumstances of the individual women—including their relationships with their husbands and children and their reputations within the community—influence the direction of the investigations?

7. The murdered women all had secrets. Discuss the reasons for or explanations of Sylvia Ottersen’s, Eli Kvale’s, and Birte Becker’s lies and deceptions. What does their behavior demonstrate about their sense of power—or lack of power—in their marriages? What moral questions arise in each case?

8. The journalist and TV pundit Arve Stop says, “as a pressman and a liberalist I have principles to consider. The issue here is whether I, as a declared anti-establishment watchdog, should unconditionally make my services available to the ruling power’s forces of law and order” and goes on to say, “I promise to assist in any way I am able . . . If you in the force assist us." Does this passage accurately illustrate the relationship between the police and the media? Can you offer real-life examples of cases that indicate cooperation, either blatant or covert, between them? Are there situations in which such collaboration is helpful?

9. During the investigation several people come under suspicion. Are the suspicions in each case supported by credible arguments and evidence? Which suspects seemed to you the most likely to have committed the murders and why?

10. How does Nesbø set the stage for the encounter between Bratt and Avre Stop? What aspects of  Bratt’s personality—and of Stop’s—enable her to manipulate the dangerous course of events?

11. What characteristics, good and bad, does Harry share with Rafto? In what ways are their careers similar? How do they compare to other fictional detectives in classic and contemporary literature?

12. What are the major turning points in the investigation? What do the twists in the plot demonstrate about the interplay of  routine procedures and intuition in solving the murders? Discuss why Harry attributes his identification of the killer to “a fluke. An atypical fluke” and what this implies about the nature of criminal investigations.

13. What drives the killer’s decision to “leave clear clues, show them the connections, give them the bigger picture”? In what ways do the killer’s actions and motivation conform to your beliefs or knowledge about serial murderers, both fictional and real? Consider such factors as psychological problems caused by childhood traumas; the possession of above-average intelligence; the ability to charm others; and the sense of superiority often associated with such criminals.

14. Harry’s mentor Stale Aune, says, “The more aged I become, the more I tend to the view that evil is evil, mental illness or not. We’re all more or less disposed to evil . . . we’re all sick with personality disorders. And our actions define how we are." To what extent do the characters in the novel—victims, suspects, and members of the police, including Harry—struggle with “personality disorders”?  In your opinion, does some degree of mental illness explain most, if not all, criminal behavior?

15. What techniques does Nesbo use to control the pace and tension of the narrative? Discuss the effect of the flashbacks that interrupt the on-going investigation; Harry’s private moments with Oleg and Rakel; the casual interactions among the police team; and the detailed, graphic accounts of crimes and the discovery of bodies.

16. Do the descriptions of life in Norway—from the weather to the rivalry between the cities Oslo and Bergen, to discussions of crime and other societal problems—enhance the novel? What function do the references to the American elections and culture serve?

17. Jo Nesbø is one of several Scandinavian crime fiction authors who are increasingly popular in this country. In what ways does The Snowman, well as works by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Maj Sjöwall, differ from American thrillers? What qualities, if any, distinguish Harry and his colleagues from the detectives depicted in American books, television shows, and movies?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Edward Hahn, July 12, 2013 (view all comments by Edward Hahn)
A gripping, well written, suspenseful story by Norwegian Jo Nesbø. The book successfully moves back and forth between the past and the present, while chronologically covering 22 days in the investigation of a serial killer known as the Snowman because of his signature of leaving a Snowman near the house of his victims always after the first snow of the winter. Inspector Harry Hole, is the only serial killer expert in the Oslo Police Department and is often accused of wanting murders to be committed by a serial killer so he can use his expertise. Harry is also a recovering alcoholic beset by internal demons and often disappointed by others. In spite of this he is an investigative genius but has few friends and admirers within the police force, especially in the hierarchy.

In this novel, he lurches from one theory to another and identifies a number of people as the Snowman, only to subsequently figure out they are not the right ones. This frustrates, not only Harry, but also others working the case to say nothing of his superiors, who don't trust him anyway. He also has a habit of going off on his own which angers his colleagues and puts him in unnecessary danger. After many false starts he figures it all out but almost too late. Things end somewhat poetically and the stage is set for the next book in the series.

While Nesbø's work does not quite measure up to my favorite Scandinavian author, Swede Henning Mankell, with this book he comes pretty damn close.
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partclouds, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by partclouds)
Hard to believe how each book (by Nesbö) can be better than the previous. I will never look at a snowman without thinking about Nesbö.
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dodeco, January 26, 2013 (view all comments by dodeco)
Great book! Great writer! Actually, all of Jo Nesbo's books are very good.
Though it is always the same main character, every story is new and everytime you learn more about him. (In comparison: I got bored really fast by Henning Mankell and his main character Kurt Wallander.)
Best crime novel I read so far!
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Product Details

Nesbo, Jo
Vintage Books
Jo Nesbo
Jo Nesbo
Bartlett, Don
Mystery & Detective - General
Mystery-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Publication Date:
8 x 5.15 x 0.91 in 0.75 lb

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The Snowman Used Trade Paper
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$8.95 In Stock
Product details 512 pages Vintage Books - English 9780307742995 Reviews:
"Review" by , “Jo Nesbø is my new favorite thriller writer and Harry Hole my new hero.”
"Review" by , “With Henning Mankell having written his last Wallander novel and Stieg Larsson no longer with us, I have had to make the decision on whom to confer the title of best current Nordic writer of crime fiction. After finishing Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, I hesitate no longer....This is crime writing of the highest order, in which the characters are as strong as the story, where an atmosphere of evil permeates, and the tension begins in the first chapter and never lets up.”
"Review" by , The Snowman is a superb thriller — smart, stylish, beautifully paced and meticulously plotted....Nesbø is such an insightful portraitist that Hole and all the secondary characters are convincing at just about every bloody turn....The psychological aspects of the novel are on a par with Ruth Rendell’s inspector Wexford mysteries. Ultimately, though, what sets Nesbø apart is his ability to keep the pages turning with such intellectual dexterity.”
"Review" by , “Every now and then, a truly exceptional crime novel comes along, something so gripping that it recalls classics such as The Silence of the Lambs. Jo Nesbø has pulled it off with The Snowman...[which] establishes him as a writer of rare ingenuity and total confidence.”
"Review" by , “Irresistibly addictive....This is reading as you experienced it in childhood, without any gap between eye and mind, but with the added pleasures that adult plots and adult characters can bring....It is Nesbø’s plots — brilliantly conceived, carefully worked out, and complicatedly satisfying — that finally make [his books] unputdownable.”
"Review" by , “Nesbø is being hailed as the next Stieg Larsson or Henning Mankell....Apt comparisons, but they don’t go far enough. This is simply the best detective novel this reviewer has read in years....Nesbø’s latest thriller reads like a symphony, from the thundering first chords that pull the reader into a magical world through the delicately enticing development in which motifs and story strands are woven together leading to a pounding, furious conclusion.”
"Synopsis" by , One night, after the first snowfall of the year, a boy named Jonas wakes up and discovers that his mother has disappeared. Only one trace of her remains: a pink scarf, his Christmas gift to her, now worn by the snowman that inexplicably appeared in their yard earlier that day. Inspector Harry Hole suspects a link between the missing woman and a suspicious letter he’s received. The case deepens when a pattern emerges: over the past decade, eleven women have vanished — all on the day of the first snow. But this is a killer who makes his own rules... and he’ll break his pattern just to keep the game interesting, as he draws Harry ever closer into his twisted web.

With brilliantly realized characters and hair-raising suspense, international bestselling author Jo Nesbø presents his most chilling case yet — one that will test Harry Hole to the very limits of his sanity.

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