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Macbeth    by Jo Nesbo order for
by Jo Nesbo
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2018 (2018)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's a noir modern retelling of Macbeth by one of my favorite thriller writers ever, Jo Nesbo. He gave us the outstanding Harry Hole series, set mainly in Oslo, Norway, as well as some excellent standalones like The Son. Now he places Macbeth in the 1970s in a run-down, rainy, industrial town that's fighting endemic corruption and drugs.

As the story opens, and despite being an ex-junkie himself, Inspector Macbeth seems like one of the good guys. He heads the SWAT team and is very effective at his job. When he was younger, Macbeth was addicted to the local drug, brew ('a ticket to heaven and certain hell'), and was saved by the older Lady, haunted by her own demons from the past. Now they're married and she runs a casino.

Duncan, in this version, is the visionary chief of police, who plans to undo the damage caused by the misrule of previous police commissioner Kenneth that sank the city into 'a quagmire of corruption, bankruptcies, crime and chaos.' There are two competing drug gangs - the Norse Riders led by cop-killer Sweno and local crime lord Hecate.

As the story opens Inspector Duff heads the Narcotics Unit against Sweno, while Macbeth's SWAT team (including his old friend Banquo) stand ready to save the day. They do, but cross a line - which gets easier to do all the time, reminding me of The Shield. The witches (Hecate's drug dealers) show up and predict that Macbeth will be the next chief commissioner.

As we expect, Lady persuades Macbeth that he must kill Duncan - for the good of the town of course - and the Shakespearian tale unfolds, much as anticipated, but retold very cleverly in the modern day. What I did find different was Nesbo's portrayal of Macbeth and his Lady as victims of their own abused childhoods, which made it hard not to feel sympathy for them.

Though this Macbeth is very well told by a master storyteller, I much prefer his other novels, especially his Harry Hole mysteries, which are must reads for anyone who enjoys intelligent thrillers.

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