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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jo Nesbø

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To purchase Headhunters

Title: Headhunters
Author: Jo Nesbø
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 265 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Headhunters - US
Headhunters - UK
Headhunters - Canada
Chasseurs de têtes - France
Headhunter - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Hodejegerne
  • Translated by Don Bartlett
  • Headhunters was made into a film in 2011, directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Aksel Hennie

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Our Assessment:

B : goes way over the top for a stretch, but is satisfyingly resolved

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age D 18/3/2012 Peter Craven
Globe & Mail A 12/10/2011 Margaret Cannon
The Independent . 6/10/2011 Barry Forshaw
Independent on Sunday . 2/10/2011 Christian House
The Times . 22/10/2011 Marcel Berlins

  From the Reviews:
  • "It doesn't help that Headhunters is translated into a no-person's language that shows evidence of academic (rather than life) experience on the translator's part. (...) Headhunters is the kind of book that gives trash a bad name. Not least because it's ponderous enough to portend itself as something more." - Peter Craven, The Age

  • "Smart dialogue, intricate plotting, brilliantly conceived characters, perfect pacing. This novel should put Nesbo at the top of any reader’s must-have list." - Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail

  • "If you don't like the idea of being manipulated by a novelist, then perhaps you should avoid the latest Jo Nesbo. Alfred Hitchcock relished the idea of playing a cinema audience like an orchestra, forcing us to feel sympathy for an unsympathetic character. That's the kind of legerdemain that Norway's most successful author pulls off here. (...) If none of the author's usual insight into Norway is forthcoming, a sizeable measure of sheer entertainment is on offer. Nesboites might like the change of pace." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "(A) masterclass in obfuscation and psychological parrying. (...) After recent events, no one can be in any doubt of Norway's dark side and Nesbo wisely juxtaposes Oslo's shiny veneer with its rotten elements. Equally, the parallels between artistic worth and corporate value are neatly levied." - Christian House, Independent on Sunday

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Headhunters is narrated by the thirty-five-year old headhunter -- matching executives and corporations -- Roger Brown, considered one of the best in the business. He is confident about his professional abilities, but he does have a few insecurities, conscious that he is slightly under average height, and that his family background is rather humble (dad was in the diplomatic corps -- but as a chauffeur). And then there is his wife, Diana -- who is way out of his league but apparently truly loves him (even though she desperately wants kids and Roger pressured her into getting an abortion when she got pregnant). Roger is devoted to his wife, too -- relatively faithful (with one brief slip), and willing to do anything to make her happy, including paying for a lifestyle -- fancy house, fancy art gallery for Diana to run -- that is way beyond his pay grade.
       Roger does have a lucrative sideline: he organizes the theft and re-sale of fancy works of art -- taking advantage of his headhunting-position to learn about the valuable art candidates might have hanging in their homes. It's a pretty good scam he has going -- but that and his whole world threaten to unravel when he is tempted by a really big score, an authentic Rubens.
       The Rubens belongs to Clas Greve, and that's not all Greve has to offer: the former CEO of a GPS technology company that was recently bought out, he is the perfect candidate to head up Pathfinder, who are searching for a new man to run the company; if Roger can land this scalp he'll really have it made.
       Greve proves a bit too good to be true. Not that there's a problem with the painting or his qualifications for the Pathfinder position -- no, it's that while Roger is an expert manipulator who can out-maneuver practically any candidate or company he deals with he has apparently met his match in Greve, a man whose background also includes stints with the Dutch marines -- commandos who are, as Roger says: "The macho elite stuff" -- as well as a counter-terrorism unit. Throw in the GPS technology he's familiar with from his previous job and he is a very well-equipped hunter. And, yes, Roger becomes his prey.
       What starts out as an entertaining caper-thriller takes a sinister turn -- and then goes completely over the top. Roger finds himself in way over his head -- and after he does so literally, in an unbelievably unpleasant scene, Headhunters becomes an almost ridiculously cartoonish thriller. Still, one has to hand it to Nesbø: all the pieces -- and the various clues strewn through the story -- eventually fall into neat (if still often very unlikely) place. And Nesbø also proves himself a master manipulator, with some very nice twists, which allow him to bring the story to a surprisingly satisfying (if a bit too good to be true) conclusion.
       There are a lot of pieces -- indeed, near the end Nesbø has to resort to a lengthy scene in which the policeman who 'solves' the case explains exactly what (appears to have) happened, which explains a lot. The over-intricate overlap of conspiracies and the number of coincidences mean that this isn't a particularly believable thriller; still, the big puzzle picture (and how it works out) is satisfying -- and a lot of the action is fun. It probably plays better on the screen -- and it has been made into a movie, with an American re-make in the offing -- but it's an enjoyable B-thriller-read, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 October 2011

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Headhunters: Reviews: Headhunters - the film: Jo Nesbø: Other books by Jo Nesbø under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Jo Nesbø was born in 1960.

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© 2011-2023 the complete review

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