By Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
446 pp. Hogarth. $27.
In 1937, The New Yorker printed James Thurber’s “The Macbeth Murder Mystery,” about an avid reader of Agatha Christie who picks up a paperback copy of “Macbeth,” mistakenly assuming it’s a detective story. She quickly discovers it’s a Shakespeare play however is already hooked and reads it as a whodunit. It takes her some time to determine who killed Duncan, after initially refusing to imagine the Macbeths had been accountable: “You think them essentially the most, in fact, however these are those which can be by no means responsible — or shouldn’t be, anyway.” Her prime suspect had been Banquo, however “then, in fact, he was the second individual killed. That was good proper in there, that half. The individual you watched of the primary homicide ought to all the time be the second sufferer.”
It’s a really comic story and an insightful one, for Thurber reveals how intently Shakespeare’s tragedy follows the contours of detective fiction. Thurber wasn’t the primary to attract such connections; over a century earlier, in an excellent essay in regards to the play — “On the Knocking on the Gate in ‘Macbeth’” — Thomas De Quincey had mirrored on how deeply Shakespeare understood the interaction of homicide and suspense. If the various allusions to “Macbeth” within the works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, P. D. James and different crime writers are any indication, Shakespeare’s play could also be seen as one of many nice progenitors of the style, making Jo Nesbo, the celebrated Norwegian author of thrillers, a really perfect option to replace the play for Hogarth Shakespeare, a collection during which best-selling novelists flip Shakespeare’s works into up to date fiction.
Nesbo has spoken of discovering himself on acquainted terrain right here, arguing that “Macbeth” is basically a “thriller in regards to the battle for energy” that takes place “in a dark, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a darkish, paranoid human thoughts.” True sufficient, but many options of this 400-year-old tragedy don’t simply match the calls for of a contemporary, practical thriller. One of many pleasures of studying this e book is watching Nesbo meet the formidable problem of assimilating components of the play unsuited to practical crime fiction, particularly the supernatural: the witches, prophecies, visions, and the mysterious determine of Hecate.
Nesbo’s most consequential choice was when and the place to set his story. Whereas he follows Shakespeare in finding it in Scotland, quite than taking us again to the 11th century he locations it within the early 1970s. He doesn’t identify town, although there are lots of hints that it’s Glasgow. This alternative alerts Nesbo’s ambitions for his novel, giving it a pointy social edge in addition to a well timed political resonance. The Glasgow of that period was a desperately grim place, not in contrast to these elements of America now ravaged by the opioid disaster: It was staggered by alcoholism, environmental hazards, excessive suicide charges, corruption, gang warfare, the lack of industrial jobs and a major rise in drug abuse. Issues had been so dangerous that historians converse of the “Glasgow effect” to account for why Glaswegians died youthful and suffered greater than those that lived in comparable locations.
It’s harder than it appears to be like to create a world that’s trustworthy to Shakespeare’s unique whereas additionally feeling fashionable and actual. Inserting Shakespeare’s story in a late-20th-century world of medicine, gangs and corrupt civic leaders goes a great distance towards fixing this downside. “Brew” — the time period used for the drug to which so many are addicted — is on the coronary heart of Nesbo’s novel and neatly straddles the murky world of Shakespeare’s witches, with their caldron, and that of contemporary drug labs. By making dependancy so central to his plot, Nesbo additionally makes Macbeth’s paranoia and hallucinatory visions, so essential to Shakespeare’s play, not simply plausible however significant in a up to date manner.