The author of 'The Snowman' on building suspense, dissing 'Braveheart,' and handling Hollywood

Norway’s Jo Nesbø (pronounced You NESS-buh) and his gritty detective Harry Hole are huge overseas. As The Snowman hits the U.S., the author, 51, talks to us about building suspense, dissing Braveheart, and handling Hollywood.

Your hero, the detective Harry Hole, is considered an ”arrogant, argumentative, unstable alcoholic” by most of his colleagues. Do you find him likable?
Basically I like him, but I do find him annoying from time to time. I can see myself in him in some situations. He’s a melancholic, romantic kind of guy, and I can relate to that.

The Snowman is very suspenseful. How do you create that tension?
From a young age I was easily scared by horror movies and ghost stories. When we went for a summer holiday, the other children would ask me to tell ghost stories. I thought it was because they thought I was a brilliant storyteller, but later they told me it was because they could hear the fear in my voice when I told the stories. So I think it comes naturally. You have to somehow be scared yourself.

There are a lot of references to American pop culture in your books. When you work in mentions of Ryan Adams or Starship Troopers, is that you plugging stuff you love, or are you just imagining what Harry would like?
Oh, that’s me talking. That’s one of the, what do you call it, fringe benefits: You can put your own taste in popular culture into the conversations, have him express your own opinions, like Braveheart being the worst movie ever to win an Oscar for best movie.

You started writing at age 37. What were you doing before that?
It was a long journey. I thought I was destined to be a professional [soccer] player, but then I broke the ligaments in both knees. I formed a [band] with my brother and started working as a stockbroker. Our second album was a huge success. I had this strange idea that I wanted to keep my day job as a stockbroker, but I got totally burned-out. So I went to Australia, and while I was there I wrote my first novel. I’d seen friends start writing this big European novel they were never able to finish, so I wrote a crime novel. I thought I’d write something that was easy, that wouldn’t take too long. I was surprised and even scared when somebody wanted to publish it. I was like, ”Hey, wait, are you sure? Can I have another try and write something completely different?”

Indie powerhouse Working Title is making Nesbø’s latest book into a film.

His Hollywood deal
Indie powerhouse Working Title is making Nesbø’s latest book into a film.

Nesbø planned to wait until he was done with all of the Harry Hole books before turning them into movies, but then he got a call from Working Title. ”Their opening line was they made the Coen brothers’ Fargo, which is one of my favorites,” says the author. ”I said I would need a veto when it comes to the screenwriter and the director. They said no. But then they came back last year and agreed.” So who should play Harry? ”I’ve thought about it for a long time,” says Nesbø, ”and I have no idea.”