The new Macbeth was staged in the 1970s in a small town where crime, drug, corruption were rampant, and industry, on the other hand, was deserted. Half the townspeople were ruled by addiction. It was pretty much a doomsday scenario from start to finish.
I have to say Jo Nesbo really excels at building up tension and intricacies while adding a gloomy vibe to the story. The book is a page-turner for me, but at times it strains credulity. Overall, it was a smooth read, though not very compelling.
There were actually three gangs that inhabited the town, two drug cartels and the police force. The newly appointed Chief Commissioner Duncan, with Malcolm as his deputy, had aimed to make a change and wipe out the two criminal organizations. But when he promoted Macbeth, the former head of SWAT, to lead the Organized Crime Unit, things went downhill fast.
Macbeth, a man of the people, had a thing for daggers. His deputy Banquo took him in when he was still a homeless teenage addict. Another person coming after the promotion was Duff, his friend from childhood, who saved him from a predator in their orphanage. The new responsibility came as a surprise to Macbeth. But it was soon converted into a thirst for power under the influence of his girlfriend Lady.
The two of them embarked on a crazy killing spree, wiping out anyone who stood in their way. Chief Commissioner and even mayor, their greed was accumulating. However, not only was their plan riddled with loopholes, their action and emotion failed to tally.
For example, Duncan was killed with a knife. Macbeth framed the murder on his bodyguards and pulled it off. No one seemed to realize the connection between the MO and Macbeth’s talent for daggers. And with Duncan and Malcolm both gone, no one darted a suspicious look at the ready-made Chief Commissioner and wondered: who was the beneficiary of these murders?
And Lady, a vulture and mastermind behind all the plots, didn’t seem to bear any burden. But she was secretly tormented with the murder of her own child. I get that Macbeth tried to add more complexity to the character, but the way he put it was just downright stiff. Lady went from total cruelty to sudden loss of reason, and then a momentary recovery.
The same problem occurred to the character arc of Macbeth. He could order the death of a man like his father, a steadfast friend, women and children. And reasoned that was sacrificing a small number for the greater public good. Nesbo depicted him as a depraved monster, but in the meantime argued that his desire came from his love for Lady and that he himself didn’t want anything. It just didn’t add up.
That said, there were moments scattered throughout the book that made me take a step back and let them sink in. The leader of one drug gang, Hecate sent his witches to spell prophecies for Macbeth that he would become the new head of Organized Crime, and that later Chief Commissioner. Truth was, the first promotion indeed happened, but the second one was only a seed sowed by Hecate. If people saw the first one fulfilled, they’d believe the next one blindly. When I read it, I assumed the same, that Hecate arranged something. But no, that was just a venomous thought and the existence of it would take care of the rest. “People were like wet clay: they were shaped by opportunity, motive and what you told them today, and they could blithely do what had been inconceivable the day before. Yes, that was the only thing that was fixed, the only you could count on: the heart was greedy.”
This idea was held till last that evil cannot be eradicated because this is what humans are. A nightmarish story indeed.