So it seems appropriate that mega-selling Norwegian author Jo Nesbo has adapted one of the Bard’s greatest plays, Macbeth, into a thriller.
This update is set in a dilapidated, drug-ridden town in 1970s Scotland. Macbeth himself is a senior policeman, strongly resembling a Scottish version of the author’s Norwegian sleuth, Harry Hole.
Macbeth’s lover, a casino owner known as Lady, and three witches, or in this case prostitutes, egg him on to seize power by murdering Duncan, the police commissioner.
In some ways Jo Nesbo has improved on the original.
His Macduff, or Inspector Duff as he’s called here, is committing adultery with Caithness, who in this version has become a female pathologist.
He is a much more interesting and morally ambiguous character than Shakespeare’s goody-goody original.
The writer also squeezes a good deal of juicy extra drama out of Duff’s undercover journey, while disguised as a sailor, to find Malcolm.
The Scottish setting has the dark, DC Comics-style feeling of the author’s Harry Hole books.
But wonderfully atmospheric as it is, the novel often drags. Nesbo sticks as closely as possible to the original plot but this means the reader cannot help recalling how much more subtly chilling Shakespeare is.
Where Shakespeare can capture a character with a few lines of dialogue, Jo Nesbo gives his characters extensive – but ultimately pointless – backstories.
His ghoulish imagination and sense of atmosphere compensate for a tendency to go over the top and to ramble but his excesses don’t quite suit Shakespeare’s short, sharp shock of a story.