Macbeth, by Jo Nesbø

33952851If I’ve learned nothing else from listening to Last Podcast on the Lasts episodes about Jonestown, it’s that one should always head for the hills once the leader starts taking amphetamines. When I pair that with a lesson I learned from Shakespeare—that one should run from anyone with this particular name—I know that Jo Nesbø’s Macbeth is going to be a furious bloodbath with few survivors, directed by two people who are out of their heads with power and guilt.

In Nesbø’s version of Shakespeare’s play, another retelling in Hogarth’s series, the action plays out in an unnamed setting that I think is a version of Glasgow in the 1970s. Here, Macbeth is the head of the city’s SWAT team. Duff is an Inspector with Organized Crime. Duncan has just become chief commissioner. In the background, the head of a drug manufacturing and selling syndicate named Hecate starts to pull strings. Macbeth and Duff are visited after a raid (that Duff screwed up and Macbeth rescued) by three of Hecate’s minions, who tell the men that Macbeth will be promoted to Head of Organized Crime and, later, chief commissioner.

Lady Macbeth goes off the rails, by Johann Heinrich Füssli
(Image via Wikicommons)

This “prophecy” kicks of a series of murders, murders to cover up those murders, and yet more murders to cover up the cover-up murders. Readers of Nesbø and Shakespeare should find it all pretty familiar. My big problem with the book was that I didn’t buy some of the early leaps of logic made by Lady, Macbeth’s lover and partner. Once she learns about Hecate’s prophecy, she almost immediately goes off the rails. She plays on Macbeth’s insecurity about his lower class origins and past traumas to get him to kill Duncan. If he can take over, she tells him, he can make the city better for everyone. So he starts killing. And, as in Shakespeare’s play, everything starts to go to hell right rapidly.

I don’t know if enjoy is the right word for how I feel about this retelling of Macbeth. It’s faithful to the original plot. Lady and Macbeth are appropriately tortured. I rather liked how Duff’s character was developed. But since this book can be summed up as murder after murder until most of the characters are dead, I feel like it lacks some of the emotional depth of Shakespeare’s version. I knew that anything written by Nesbø would be gory; I’m not surprised by that. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the other books in the Hogarth series, which do take the opportunity to take on problems in the original Shakespeare or put a new spin on things. This Macbeth is more like the story was lifted and dropped into a different setting and with the great speeches trimmed away.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 5 April 2018.

1 Comment

  1. Not sure if this is for me. I don’t mind gore, but there needs to be something else to get me through the story. If it lacks emotional depth, then I don’t think I’ll like it. I’m glad it stayed mostly faithful to the original plot, though! Great review!


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