Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

Macbeth Jo NesboIn a town rife with corruption, it’s hard to know who is good and who is bad.  Or, at least that is the case in Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth, which seems to sit permanently in the grey.

The city, somewhere in Scotland in the 1970’s is grey, overhung by smoke and smog. The settings seem to be mainly grey, with a lot of the action taking place at night or in the evening.  And the characters are grey, so many walking a fine line between what is right and wrong, it’s no wonder some of them start to fall.

In a way, it’s perfect Nesbo territory and why I love his books – there is a darkness there that draws you in and, even with characters that tend to chose the moral right versus the legal one, I can’t help but want them to succeed. 

In other ways, though, this book is very different from his others.  It’s not set in Oslo for a start, which has it’s own type of grittiness but Scotland.  As much as I tried, I couldn’t quite get the scene in my head.  I felt that I was in a 1984-type future almost, not a real 1970’s city (the rundown nature of which I can just imagine).  Everything felt too stylised for me.  I didn’t like that, if I’m honest, because I couldn’t settle into the ‘place’ of the book.

It was probably intentionally, because this is also not Nesbo’s normal type of book in that’s it a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, brought up to date and told through modern eyes.  My problem was, it didn’t work for me.  There was none of the Nesbo I loved in these pages.  The writing was hard to follow, overly descriptive in parts, and jumping in style so I kept feeling wrong-footed.

I have asked myself if I would have felt the same if I was new to Nesbo’s work and the answer is probably no.  I think I would have enjoyed it more so there is something about expectations here.  If I could just have let myself let those go and enjoyed it for what it was – a dark, gritty, piece of crime writing, I would have been better off.  I don’t think I’d have loved it but I would have enjoyed it more.

I think I also had expectations because this is now the third book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series I have read and the other two books (Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood and New Boy by Tracy Chevalier ), I have really enjoyed.  With those, I found you didn’t need to know the story well, you could just read the story and get lost in it.  Here, I kept flashing back to my limited knowledge of Macbeth, trying to fit the pieces together.  I’m not sure why that it, but it happened.

All in all, then, it didn’t make for the best read for me.  I wouldn’t let it put you off trying it though (there is a free sample on Amazon UK for those interested in trying before buying), especially if you aren’t as familiar as I am with Jo Nesbo’s other books.


About the book…

Set in the 1970s in a run-down, rainy industrial town, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth centres around a police force struggling to shed an incessant drug problem. Duncan, chief of police, is idealistic and visionary, a dream to the townspeople but a nightmare for criminals. The drug trade is ruled by two drug lords, one of whom—a master of manipulation named Hecate—has connections with the highest in power, and plans to use them to get his way.

Hecate’s plot hinges on steadily, insidiously manipulating Inspector Macbeth: the head of SWAT and a man already susceptible to violent and paranoid tendencies. What follows is an unputdownable story of love and guilt, political ambition, and greed for more, exploring the darkest corners of human nature, and the aspirations of the criminal mind.

Publisher: Hogarth
Publication date: 5th April, 2018
Source: Netgalley
Number of pages: 512
Genre: crime fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5


Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own. 


  1. I’ve been meaning to try Nesbo…but perhaps I should try one of the others. I’ve only read one of the Hogarth series: Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, which I enjoyed.

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. This one sounds a bit of a disappointment, Emma… I loved Hag-Seed and thought it very clever and deftly done. I don’t think I’ll bother with this one, though.


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