Book Review: Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

MacbethAbout the Book

He’s the best cop they’ve got.

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past.

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach.

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

Format: Paperback (624 pp.)    Publisher: Vintage
Published: 20th September 2018 [5th April 2018] Genre: Fiction, Thriller

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My Review

Jo Nesbø is the latest author to participate in the Hogarth Shakespeare project.  Launched in October 2015, the project’s stated aim is ‘to see Shakespeare’s plays reimagined by some of today’s bestselling and most celebrated writers. The books are true to the spirit of the original plays, while giving authors an exciting opportunity to do something new.’

This is the first book by Jo Nesbø I’ve read, although I’m aware of his books and his many fans across the world.  Therefore, I came to the book with high expectations both because of his reputation and the Shakespeare play he had chosen to tackle, Macbeth. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.  At over 600 pages, I found the book rather a slog and not as gripping as I had expected.  For me, the author didn’t really succeed in ‘doing something new’ to the extent I was hoping for.

The book certainly fleshes out the back stories of many of the characters in Shakespeare’s play but I didn’t find this added much for me.  A lot of time was devoted to the detailed planning of police operations, carried out with ruthlessness and little regard for the rule of law.  So if you like plenty of blood and guts, you’ll be happy. Things picked up a little when Lady (the character who represents Lady Macbeth) arrived on the scene but not enough to reignite my interest in the book as a whole.

The book is set in a rundown Scottish town in the 1970s but has a distinctly dystopian feel.  It’s a place where unemployment and deprivation has led to a high level of addiction to drugs, gambling and alcohol.  In practice, the drug barons are in charge and corruption in local institutions, including the Police, is rife.  To my mind this was where the book worked best; conjuring up an atmosphere of decay and hopelessness, a society divided into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and torn apart by violence and gang warfare.

I think if the writing had been tauter, some of the detail had been excised and the author could have done more than just retell the story but set in another time and place, it would have made Macbeth a more compelling read.  Although there were elements I enjoyed, like some other reviewers, I don’t believe this is the most successful contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Vintage, and NetGalley.

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Jo NesboAbout the Author

Jo Nesbø is a bestselling Norwegian author and musician. He was born in Oslo and grew up in Molde. Nesbø graduated from the Norwegian School of Economics with a degree in economics. Nesbø is primarily famous for his crime novels about Detective Harry Hole, but he is also the main vocals and songwriter for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre. In 2007 Nesbø also released his first children’s book, Doktor Proktors Prompepulver.

(Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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Book Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

The Clockmaker's DaughterAbout the Book

My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing a drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

Format: Hardcover, ebook (600 pp.)    Publisher: Pan Macmillan/Mantle
Published: 20th September 2018   Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Clockmaker’s Daughter switches frequently between different time periods and points of view, some of the latter being introduced for the first time quite a long way into the book.  The first person narrator referred to in the book description as ‘a woman who stands outside time’ may require the willing suspension of disbelief by some readers; others will find it intriguing and inventive.  I enjoyed this narrator’s mischievous nature whilst at the same time feeling an empathy with her evident underlying sadness.

In the depiction of the group of friends who arrive at Birchwood Manor in 1862, the author conveys the insular atmosphere of an artistic community, full of petty rivalries and jealousies.  (I was reminded of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery, Five Little Pigs, and Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn novel, Artists in Crime.)  There’s a sense of simmering discontent that may boil over at any moment.  When it does, it’s in a quite unexpected way and with far-reaching consequences .

Appropriately given its title, the book makes frequent reference to the passing of time. ‘There was no going back. Time only moved in one direction.  And it didn’t stop.  It never stopped moving, not even to let a person think.  The only way back was in one’s memories.’  Timing devices have significance as well.  At one point, a character remarks, ‘There was no clock inside the studio.  There was no time.’  Another character recalls a grandfather clock whose ‘tick-tock’ sounded louder at night, ‘counting down the minutes, though to what he was never sure; there never seemed to be an end’.

The book also explores the idea of a sense of place, epitomized by Birchwood Manor which sits at the centre of a web connecting it to the different characters to varying degrees.  The melding of past and present is another recurrent theme.   For example, the book refers to a character entering the house and feeling that they were ‘stepping back in time’.  At another point, Birchwood Manor is described as being like ‘a Sleeping Beauty house’ as if just waiting for someone to reawaken it.

From my point of view, The Clockmaker’s Daughter marks a return to form for Kate Morton as I really liked The Secret Keeper but didn’t get on at all with The Distant Hours (which is still, I’m afraid, sitting unfinished on my bookshelf).  Although the author has delivered another chunky book and the multiple timelines and points of view demand a good deal of concentration from the reader (a few more reminders of the time period in the chapter headings would have helped), it has a great sense of atmosphere and the unfolding of the mystery is skillfully intertwined with the stories of the various characters.   Edward Radcliffe’s sister, Lucy, observes at one point, ‘a story is not a single idea; it is thousands of ideas, all working together in concert’.  There are certainly a lot of different ideas and narrative strands in The Clockmaker’s Daughter but, on the whole, I believe they do all work together in concert to create a satisfying read (perfect for autumn/winter nights, by the way).

I received an advance review copy courtesy of publishers, Pan Macmillan/Mantle, and NetGalley.

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Kate MortonAbout the Author

Kate Morton was born in South Australia, grew up in the mountains of south-east Queensland and now lives with her family in London and Australia. She has degrees in dramatic art and English literature, and harboured dreams of joining the Royal Shakespeare Company until she realised that it was words she loved more than performing. Kate still feels a pang of longing each time she goes to the theatre and the house lights dim.

“I fell deeply in love with books as a child and believe that reading is freedom; that to read is to live a thousand lives in one; that fiction is a magical conversation between two people – you and me – in which our minds meet across time and space. I love books that conjure a world around me, bringing their characters and settings to life, so that the real world disappears and all that matters, from beginning to end, is turning one more page.”

Kate Morton’s five previous novels – The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper and The Lake House – have all been New York Times bestsellers, Sunday Times bestsellers and international number 1 bestsellers; they are published in 34 languages, across 42 countries.

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