Harry, Lo and Jo: A love story

2013-12-29T10:00:00Z Harry, Lo and Jo: A love storyLois Berger Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
December 29, 2013 10:00 am  • 

I was so excited. Finally, I would be face to face with the only man I’ll ever love.

Harry Hole, an alcoholic Norwegian detective (trying to be sober.) Tall, athletic, lean, Blond, blue eyes, with a scar extending from the corner of his mouth to his ear; the kind of man every woman dreams about. A man, who specializes in solving serial killer murders, has trouble with authority and his love life. Yes, I would indeed be his lover or even his best friend, especially now that he has come to the U.S. (Courtesy of TribNation events who set up this special meeting).

So I walked into the room and there he was. Well, not exactly, I shook hands with Jo Nesbo, the brilliant author of the nine Harry Hole crime novels. OK, Jo was slight, crew cut blondish hair, no scar, but charming and with a sense of humor. I told him that I was one of a gaggle of girls who were in love with Harry. We thought we had discovered "The Snowman," by Jo Nesbo after giving up on Henning Mankell’s Wallender series and Stieg Larsson’s "Girl With the Dragon Tatoo." Little did we know that book was the 7th best-seller by Nesbo in Norway, but finally translated in the U.S. in 2008. Now, in order, "The Bat," "Cockroaches," "The Redbreast," "Nemesis," "The Devil’s Star," "The Redeemer," "The Leopard," "The Phanthom" and now "Police" are all available in the U.S. My friends and I have read them all, and I recommend anyone who loves crime fiction, read them as well.

But now, I want to know everything about the guy who made me fall in love with Harry.

Start from the beginning, Jo. “I never dreamed I would be a writer, “Nesbo began. “I was 17 and a star footballer on a Premier League in Norway. I was sure I was going to be a pro athlete. Then I blew out the cruciate ligaments in my knees, and my world came crashing down.” In fact, when I asked him what his biggest regret was, he told me, “When my team made the finals,(like the Super Bowl in the U.S.), I was devastated not to be there.” I asked, “Did they win?” He shrugged, “No, but just the same…”

He went on, “Then, the most amazing thing happened! I was working in finance, got bored and began writing songs. I played the guitar so I wrote and sang to myself until a young bass player I knew listened to some of my songs. We started a band, Di Derre. A year later we were touring. Two years later we had a recording contract. Our second album became the bestselling album in Norway in years. Our concerts sold out in hours. And suddenly we were pop stars”.

“However, I had seen what happened to other musicians who turned their hobby into a job, and I knew it would demand too many compromises as far as my music, and my life, were concerned. So I hung onto my day job as a stockbroker while we continued playing gigs. In other words, I had more than enough to do. I performed at night and worked during the day”.

“After one year I was so burned out that I told my band and my boss that I needed six months off. I headed for Australia.”Jo took a breath and continued, “It takes about 30 hours to fly from Oslo to Sydney. And in those 30 hours I came up with the plot for a story I started writing as soon as I got to the hotel. It was the middle of the night, I had jetlag, and I wrote about a guy named Harry who landed at the same Sydney airport, was staying in the same hotel and had jetlag.

“When I returned from Australia, I had almost finished the book. As soon as I set my suitcase down in my living room, I picked up writing again. I just wrote and wrote and was irritated by disturbances like hunger and the need for sleep.

“I sent the manuscript to a publisher, but under a pseudonym to make sure they wouldn’t be tempted to publish a crap book by a pop-star-turned-writer. The manuscript was delivered and my leave of absence was over. My first morning back at work I switched on my computer and realized I had almost everything: an apartment, no debt, an overpaid job and a great band. The only thing I didn’t have was time. So, before my computer screen was up and running, I was standing in my boss’s office explaining that I didn’t have time to work for him anymore.

“I spent the next three weeks wondering what to do. Until one morning I received a phone call asking if I were Kim Erik Lokker. ‘Yes and no’, I replied. I was then told that my manuscript was going to be published. They asked me why I had used a pseudonym, and I explained that my name was already well known in Norway. But when I told them my real name they didn’t seem to recognize it. So I cleared my throat and explained that I was the vocalist for a well-known band. Still no response. I said the name of the band. Two of them nodded and one started humming a song by another band.

“This was the beginning of Harry Hole,” Jo said. “'The Bat' was published in the fall of 1997 under my own name, and with a mix of elation and terror I waited for the reviews to deal with that pop music guy who dared to write crime fiction! But the reviews were focused on the book, not on me as a person. And, best of all, they were positive.”

Nesbo then wrote "The Cockroaches," which was accepted as the main book in the National Book Club’s New Books section—the golden ticket into commercial and literary elite in Norway. "I knew that it was actually thanks to its predecessor, "The Bat,'" Nesbo said.

“So I sat down and started writing The Redbreast. It was the story my father had wanted to tell, about Norwegians on both sides of Nazism during the Second World War. When the book came out, it was more with a sense of relief than pleasure that I gradually realized I had done quite well. The publishers were enthusiastic, the reviewers were enthusiastic and the public enthusiastic.”

I then asked about his popular children’s books. He replied, “It started with my daughter who, as usual, had asked me to make up a story while we were eating dinner. So I made up Nilly—a tiny, red-headed ten-year-old boy with an Elvis quaff and the banter of a used car salesman; his neighbor and best friend Lisa; two fat, nasty twins with a Hummer-driving father; and a fairly eccentric professor who had accidentally invented the world’s most powerful fart powder.”

Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder was greeted with unanimous enthusiasm and sales took off.

Nesbo also wrote a stand-alone book, Headhunters, which was made into a movie.

The Phanthom and Police are the latest books starring my adored Harry Hole. I’m a little upset that they might be the last. Jo’s not telling.

What I do know is that the future is looking very different for Jo Nesbo. Warner Bros. is near a deal for Blood On Snow, the first of a two novel series. It will be developed as a potential star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio. The book has been written under the pseudonym Tom Johansen, and it is about a hit man who is asked by his boss to kill the man’s wife. Trouble is, he falls in love with her and things get messy from there. The Norwegian novelist will publish the novel next spring through Knopf, with the sequel, Blood on Snow 2: More Blood, to be published the following year.

Jo has also teamed up with former "House" executive producer, Katie Jacobs for "I Am Victor", a drama at NBC. The project is described as “House as a divorce attorney.”

By the way, did I mention that Jo is a rock climber and world traveler, writing in Hawaii, Tokyo, Bangok as well as having a bungalow in Thailand. Although he doesn’t look exactly like I picture my adored Harry Hole, I wondered if Jo has put a lot of himself into Harry’s character. And he said, “Over the years I realized I did. Henning Mankell (Wallender) pointed this out to me, ‘Of course. Every writer writes about themselves whether they are aware or not.’ I based Harry partly on an eccentric Norwegian football coach, Nils Arne Eggen and (of all characters) Batman!”

So, my Harry is part football coach, Batman and Jo Nesbo. I guess I can live with that.

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