Review: Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

After a hiccup (I had discarded the book once but you convinced me to give it another go) I thoroughly enjoyed Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast and bought the rest of the series before I’d even finished the first book. I haven’t actually gotten around to reading any of them yet because every time I reach for the second book in the series I see its 600+ pages and decide to read something else. Something shorter. But a standalone novel is a whole different box of bananas and shorter than most of the Harry Hole novels so I was keen to read this one. Sadly for me it turned out not to be my cup of tea.

It is the story of Norwegian executive recruitment specialist Roger Brown (I never did discover how he ended up with such a thoroughly English name though concede this is probably my fault…my mind did wander on occasion) whose life spirals out of control in an increasingly gruesome way. Roger has a great job and a beautiful wife who he professes to adore but he feels he needs more money to fund his lifestyle so he has second job as an art thief. In a way, though not the way you might expect, it is this second job that gets him into trouble and sets up the main plot thread of the novel in which Roger matches wits with Clas Greve, a candidate for a top CEO job who ultimately becomes Roger’s arch enemy. The two play a game of cat and mouse across the Norwegian countryside and leave the landscape littered with bodies.

This book didn’t really tick any of the boxes on the list of things I look for in a good thriller and it had quite a few of the things that make me turn off (including scenes featuring poo). I found the characters flat and uninteresting which is probably the biggest problem I can have with a thriller. If characters are to be unlikeable I want them to be really unlikeable; the kind of people whose painful demise I guiltily yet eagerly anticipate. Here I just thought the two main characters were dull and I didn’t much care which of them lived, died or got the girl. The main woman was a non event; being defined only by her relationship to the men in the story and having a laughingly unbelievable relationship to her husband.

The story was a bit better than the characters but its cartoonish quality resulted in me not really being able to care about its many, increasingly implausible twists and I found myself picking apart relatively minor things like dodgy physics and technology. In a book I am enjoying I let that kind of thing was over me but here I wasn’t really engaged by the story and so the things stood out more (I can’t go into more detail without spoiling). Another thing which leapt out rather disconcertingly was the clunky product placements for brands of fridge, beer, furniture, clothing and so on. I go to some lengths to avoid being advertised at constantly so it really annoys me when it happens as part of a narrative. For me the ending to the book lost it half a star on my personal rating scale, seeming to lose the guts to be a tale of true noir right at the crucial moment and having a very clunky denouement.

I have something of a soft spot for high class thieves (blame my mother’s yen for Cary Grant which resulted in me watching To Catch a Thief dozens of times as a kid) so I was probably predisposed to liking this novel but it was not to be. To me it felt like a loosely connected series of vignettes in which bad stuff happened to not very nice people (and one poor dog) and not a lot in the way of thrills. As always alternative opinions are available and you shouldn’t just take my word for it.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Headhunters has received more positive reviews at A Common ReaderNordic Bookblog Petrona

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2/5
Narrator Sean Barrett
Publisher Random House Audiobooks [2010]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 7 hours 50 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source I bought it

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18 Responses to Review: Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

  1. Bernadette – I am sorry to hear you didn’t care that much for this one. I hadn’t read it (yet) and because I like Harry Hole, I hoped to like this one. Hmm……not as sure now.

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    • It does seem to be one of those books that people either like or hate Margot…hard to know who will fall into which camp.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve read all Nesbo’s previous books and I was enjoying this one immensely until about half way through. It’s as if at that point Nesbo handed the writing over to someone else, with a brief along the lines of “Give me a hundred or so pages of action, all sorts, don’t worry about plausibility or character development.” I won’t be explicit, but my credulity (and hence respect for the author and principal character) plunged at the very moment he lowered himself into a certain hiding place. And increased in the subsequent pages.

      I’ve skimmed the last 20 or so pages, registering frequent hollywood-style cliches as I did so. Credibility was strained further with every page. I don’t know whether I will even bother to finish it.

      Such a disappointment after his earlier thrillers, and after such an intelligent and suspenseful first half.


      Terry, East Grinstead, UK

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  2. Kathy D. says:

    If the library has it, I’ll give it a try. If not, I won’t buy it.
    It’s always interesting to read different readers’ opinions on books … gets the gray matter circulating. It would be a boring book world if we all agreed on all books. This gives readers more to ponder.

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  3. Amanda Mac says:

    I have just read this one, and coincidentally enough, I had the same experience as you with Redbreast, so my expectations were high. I actually liked this departure from Harry Hole, someone else described it as ‘waiting for Harry’ but did agree with you on some points. I still found it a good read, and the glimpse into the economic headhunter world. There were holes in the plot at the end (no the Harry kind – excuse the pun!) but the black comedy of the poo scene was delightfully different.

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  4. Vanda Symon says:

    I’m with you on this one – I didn’t enjoy this book at all, found it too unbelievable and thought the main character was an utter arrogant #%*#!

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  5. Maxine says:

    I liked it but it is one of those books you just have to take on its own terms – for example what you say is product placement I saw as him having a go at the materialistic lifestyle, & as Vanda says, the protag is an arrogant ~@”! – deliberately so I think. As you say, we can’t all like the same books 😉 I saw this one as a breezy experiment by the author in doing something a bit different from Harry Hole (eg the first person narrative). But I agree that there are plenty of things not to like about it if one looks. I raced through this book when I read it in print format, maybe having to read it at the pace of the narrator might not have helped? (I realise from your review that nothing would have helped, really. I get like that with books sometimes, once it loses me then it really loses me.)

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    • Audiobook pace probably didn’t help Maxine, but I don’t think I’d have finished the print version at all, at least with audio I am usually doing something else at the same time so I don’t feel like I am wasting time. It probably doesn’t help that Roger reminded me of several people I’ve worked with in the past (I used to have a fair bit to do with headhunters in a past job) but thrillers tend to be a bit hit or miss with me for no real reason – sometimes I’ll accept hokey plots with holes all over the place and sometimes they grate on me and I’m sure if an analysis was carried out there’d be no real logic to it 🙂

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  6. Sarah says:

    I’m with you on this one Bernadette – I didn’t like characterisation at all. But it is still nice to see an author trying something different. Perhaps the next standalone will be more successful.

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  7. Keishon says:

    I didn’t like it and didn’t finish it.

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  8. Hi Bernadette, I have just finished reading Snowman and enjoyed it so was hoping to read another of Jo Nesbo’s books soon. However, from what you and others say, might not make it Headhunters, so thanks for heads-up 😉 Redbreast sounds okay from what’s been said. May check that out. Anyone else got any other Nesbo recommendations?
    Cheers!

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  9. Maxine says:

    Redbreast, Nemesis and Devil’s Star are a trilogy. The next one, The Redeemer, can be read as a standalone. The Leopard, his latest one in English, follows directly on from Snowman and is good if you don’t mind some torture and gore. They are all good but have unnecessarily strong passages in them. And (as others are saying about Headhunters) the outcomes of the plots are usually rather too Byzantine to be convincing!

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  10. Kathy D. says:

    Nemesis is very good, one of the best thrillers I and friends have ever read. It has two simultaneous and seemingly unrelated plot lines, and it never lets up in tension, and keeps up the twists and turns until the last page.

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  14. Terry says:

    I’ve read all Nesbo’s previous books and I was enjoying this one immensely until about half way through. It’s as if at that point Nesbo handed the writing over to someone else, with a brief along the lines of “Give me a hundred or so pages of action, all sorts, don’t worry about plausibility or character development.” I won’t be explicit, but my credulity (and hence respect for the author and principal character) plunged at the very moment he lowered himself into a certain hiding place. And increased in the subsequent pages.

    I’ve skimmed the last 20 or so pages, registering frequent hollywood-style cliches as I did so. Credibility was strained further with every page. I don’t know whether I will bother to finish it.

    Such a disappointment after his earlier thrillers, and after such an intelligent and suspenseful first half.


    Terry, East Grinstead, UK

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