Where to start reading Jo Nesbo

The Norwegian author has written enough bestselling thrillers to keep you well-stocked in thoughtful page-turners. Ahead of the release of his latest,  The Jealousy Man, we offer the ultimate guide.

Jake Kerridge
Image featuring a selection of Jo Nesbo book covers
Image: Ryan MacEachern for Penguin

When he was a boy Jo Nesbø noticed that one of his fellow pupils often brought tweezers to school, for the sole purpose of pulling legs off flies. From that moment he became fascinated by what makes warped minds tick.

He began to wonder: “Do the bad guys see themselves as bad guys or good guys? If I went inside their heads, would I see things totally differently, like a photo negative?”. Getting inside the heads of bad guys – often very bad guys – has helped to make him one of the bestselling writers in the world.  

Born in Oslo in 1960, Nesbø was a celebrity in Norway before he ever put pen to paper, first as a striker for the top-flight football club Molde FK, then as the lead singer of the band Di Derre (“Those Guys”). But it is as a novelist that he has achieved global fame, selling more than 50 million copies of his books worldwide (aided in Anglophone countries by his excellent translators, Don Bartlett and Robert Ferguson). 

His best-loved creation is the morally ambiguous detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-ler), who has appeared in a dozen novels – including The Snowman, made into a film starring Michael Fassbender in 2017. Harry is the Dark Knight in what Nesbø calls his “Gotham City” version of Oslo, a man repeatedly subjected to physical and mental anguish, who often seems as tortured and transgressive as the nightmarish sadistic killers he pursues. 

In addition to the Harry Hole books, Nesbø has experimented with many other styles and sub-genres of crime fiction. Here are some books that will serve as introductions to a varied body of work, unified by Nesbø’s mastery of macabre invention.

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