Jo Nesbo’s novel Macbeth is a departure from the Harry Hole novels, and instead, this is one in the Hogarth Shakespeare series novels. The story is set in the 70s in a grimy unpleasant, town—a dreary port town which has suffered a severe economic downturn–not that the town was ever that great:
The raindrop went from shiny to grey as it penetrated the soot and the poison that lay like a constant lid of mist over the town despite the fact that in recent years the factories had closed one after the other. Despite the fact that the unemployed could no longer afford to light their stoves. In spite of the capricious and stormy wind and the incessant rain that some claimed hadn’t started to fall until the second world world had been ended by two atomic bombs a quarter of a century ago.
At one time the “country’s second-largest and once most important industrial centre” it’s now a “quagmire of corruption, bankruptcies, crime and chaos.” The former police chief commissioner, now dead, has been replaced by Duncan, and of course, he’s expected to ‘clean up’ the town. The factories may be closed, but the drug trade is booming and the town’s two casinos are more popular than ever.
The dagger-obsessed Inspector Macbeth runs the SWAT team and his wife, known as “lady,” runs a casino. With the stage set (not to mention Shakespeare’s plot) for a power struggle, we know this story is going to be violent and bloody.
The book is at its best with its strong, grim atmosphere, with the glittering Inverness casino and Obelisk, a “twenty-storey glass hotel and casino that stood up like an illuminated index finger from the brownish-black four-storey wretchedness that constituted the rest of the town.” The imagery of these casinos as alluring lighthouses for the desperate depressed is strong, but for this reader, other aspects of the tale did not work:
So that was why Banquo waited until he saw Macbeth reappear on the other side of the square and walk into the light by the entrance to the casino, from which a tall woman with flowing flame-red hair in a long red dress emerged and hugged him, as though a phantom had warned her that her beloved was on his way.
The names alone interfered in the tale with the result that the gritty update seems to be artificially glommed onto Shakespeare’s great tragedy.
Translated by Don Bartlett