I‘m not sure, which is more favorable - to be familiar with the classic Shakespearean tragedy in advance or to have a fresh start with Jo Nesbo‘s Macbeth. The modern entry made for the Hogarth Shakespeare project by the world famous Norwegian author and the creator of the incredibly popular Harry Hole series skillfully re-imagines the plot of a couple taking a path of blood and betrayal towards absolute power.
If you know this Shakespearean tragedy, you’ll be inevitably deprived of plot twists and an unexpected ending because Jo Nesbo follows the original without any detours, just transferring the story into the modern 70's and turning the king and his men into the chief commissioner and his police forces. Even the names of the characters mostly remain the same as given by Shakespeare: King Duncan of Scotland becomes the chief commissioner Duncan, his son Malcolm – deputy chief commissioner Malcolm, Macbeth, Thane of Glamis – the leader of SWAT unit, Macduff, Thane of Fife – Macbeth‘s childhood friend and the leader of narcotics unit Duff, whilst Lady Macbeth – just Lady, an owner of the casino.
If you studied the tragedy, you‘d expect the programmed blood bath and the potential victims, and this is what actually diminishes a pleasure of reading plotwise. Especially when Nesbo is known for his inter-tangled story lines and suspense stretching to the very end. Thus forget about Harry Hole and complex murder mysteries and just enjoy Nesbo‘s version on sick political ambitions, which lead through mercilessness and tyranny towards mind-cracking paranoia and inevitable death.
However those who had never had a chance to meet Shakespearean Macbeth before, might get seriously involved in a delicious page-turner. Corruption on the highest level at city‘s police headquarters, covert drug boss pulling the strings, the city itself dying of unemployment and addiction to the „brew“, broken childhoods and secrets of the past, unconditional love and unthinkable brutality – Nesbo puts all together in both popular prosaic and extremely poetic ways.
Though it‘s strange enough to find logical mistakes. If in the Shakespearean times perhaps killing Duncan and blaming his bodyguards had been easily credible, modern Macbeth could have been the prime suspect immediately after the forensic analysis and the fact that he was the one with professional dagger-throwing skills. Actually, I was surprised that Macbeth and his smart Lady have chosen this particular MD, which even a fourth grader could lead to the evident killer (but Nesbo kept sticking to the original plot, obviously).
Moreover, this modern crime thriller carries on the eternal questions raised by Shakespeare himself. Is evil hidden in all of us just waiting for its instigated hour? How do you react when the darkness thickens and the death draws closer? Do we always come to a meaningless end? According to modern Macbeth, "we‘re interrupted in mid-sentence in the narrative about ourselves, and the end hangs in the air, with no meaning, no conclusion, no unravelling final act. A short echo of the last, semi-articulated word and you‘re forgotten...The person you were, the person you really were, disappears faster than concentric rings in water.” Hence Macbeth is dead, long live Macbeth!