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Review: With “Macbeth,” Jo Nesbo’s turns Shakepeare’s Scottish play into a tale of drug wars and police corruption

UPDATED: Mon., April 9, 2018, 11:35 a.m.

This cover image of "Macbeth," Jo Nesbo’s take on Shakespeare’s famous “Scottish play.” (Hogarth)
This cover image of "Macbeth," Jo Nesbo’s take on Shakespeare’s famous “Scottish play.” (Hogarth)

“Macbeth” is a modern-day drug-war, power-struggle, double-cross, lawmen-versus-gangsters recast of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, “Macbeth.”

Set in an unnamed and dreary industrial town populated by addicts and drug gangs, police and politicians, the story matches much of the bard’s story with a power-mad couple, Inspector Macbeth, who leads the SWAT team, and his Lady, the owner of a high-end casino seeking to seize control of the law-and-order establishment and thus domination of the entire town.

After a long-standing police chief dies and one of the town’s drug gangs is all but eradicated in a raid, Macbeth receives a prophesy foretelling that he will become chief of police. Once the message is received, Lady and Macbeth connive to bring the prediction to fruition. What follows is a series of bloodbaths, double crosses, attempted cover-ups, intimidations and threats. Characters succumb to fear and paranoia, with political ambition and blood lust rampant.

The relationship of love and loyalty between Macbeth and Lady is the most engrossing aspect of the story. Macbeth loves Lady, and she manipulates him, forcing him to action when he expresses doubt. As the story progresses, the power dynamic changes and he becomes more assertive, while she loses her grip on reality.

The opening vignette, a raindrop making a long inevitable fall to earth, may be the obvious metaphor for Nesbo’s tale: the fall of man is as inevitable as a raindrop coming to the ground. We know that the ambitious Macbeth will fall, but with Lady at his side and urging him forward most of the way, we’re still eager to see how far the protagonist climbs before he comes crashing down.

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