Book Review: Macbeth by Jo Nesbø (Hogarth Shakespeare)

Macbeth - Jo Nesbo

*Thanks for the free book, Crown Publishing; it’s my pleasure to be a part of your monthly book send programme and provide honest reviews for the titles chosen*

Fun fact: I played Lady Macbeth in a school play, so when it comes to Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is my favourite.


Set in the 1970s in a run-down, rainy industrial town, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth centers 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.


Macbeth is, perhaps, Shakespeare’s most well-known play, a tragedy that explores how selfishly seeking power has damaging effects. Being an avid crime fiction reader, I was interested to see how Nesbø would retell this story in said genre. The path to greatness, the rise to power, are never trouble free. With its dark, psychological aspects, many shoot-outs, political and police corruption, Macbeth is a gritty crime novel.

I wouldn’t state that you have to know the story of Macbeth prior to reading this book, but I think it definitely worked to my advantage in some ways. Nesbø does a wonderful job of taking Shakespeare’s characters and making them his own, while still keeping the essence of the original characters. Seeing how Nesbø chose to portray these characters was my favourite thing about this novel, so if you’re not familiar with the play, you’re blind to this particular element of brilliance. However, you do gain the suspense of not knowing how this one ends and the betrayals that occur.

While I enjoyed this novel and appreciate what Nesbø has done, I found my interesting waning towards the end – the book was just too long for the story that was told. I would describe Macbeth as a dense read, there’s really no change in tempo as the book progresses, and this made it feel like I was trudging through the last third of the novel. It’s a shame because, had the novel been shorter, I would have given it the highest praise. But as I mentioned earlier, knowing the play has its advantages, but it has disadvantages also. For example, I may not have struggled with the pacing, there’s a solid build-up of tension throughout the plot but, knowing how it would end, I just wanted to hurry up and get to the ending to see how Nesbø would portray it.

So, there you have it, knowing the play was both an advantage and disadvantage for me, it enhanced some aspects of the novel but detracted from others. And that leaves me in limbo on this one….

I would recommend this novel, but if you’re a fan of Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, know that this is a different entity, it’s not Nordic noir. Also, if you don’t read crime fiction, and are only picking up this novel because you like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you may struggle with this one. I think this novel would most appeal to fans of police dramas that focus on drug cartels.

This book is available to buy from: Amazon US / Amazon UK / Book Depository

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Macbeth by Jo Nesbø (Hogarth Shakespeare)

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