Sunday, August 7, 2022

Silent (but Deadly) Night

Silent (but Deadly) Night
by Jo Nesbø
Recommended Ages: 10+

Doctor Proctor (Victor to his French cook, Juliette, with whom he is quite close) is a zany inventor who lives and Oslo and tests many of his inventions with the aid of a couple of neighborhood children – a nice girl named Lisa and an outrageous little red-haired imp named Nilly. Among the strange things he has brewed up, or collected from other mad scientists, are the fart powder prominently featured on this book's cover, which can clear your front walk of snow in an instant or (if you aim with expert precision) carry you to a nearby rooftop; and also time soap, which in bubble bath form enables you to get lathered up, think about a place and time, and instantly arrive there and then. We won't go into silly things like a nuclear-powered car, an invisible boomerang, a self-knotting tie and whatnot. We have to stick to what's important.

What's important, in this wacky adventure, is saving Christmas. You see, the King of Norway has sold Christmas to a greedy department store magnate, who decrees that nobody can have Christmas unless they spend at least 10,000 crowns (about $1,000 in today's U.S. dollars) buying stuff they probably don't need at his stores. Now, I'm sure we all sympathize with everyone's desire to support local business and ensuring the royal palace's basement is mold-free, but the sad fact is, the newly appointed Christmas police are ruining the holiday for a lot of people who can't afford to blow $1,000 on a shopping spree. You probably don't have to use your imagination too hard on that concept. But Doctor Proctor and friends make it their mission to save Christmas for everybody.

How do they go about it? Well, the answer to that would take longer to write than I plan to spend on this review. So I suggest you just get the book. I founded it in a local bookshop, but because they didn't have any other books in the series, it's the only installment I've read. You could try online. But for a taster, I might mention that they track down the real Santa Claus (who isn't as jolly as you'd think), hook up a team of jet reindeer, outfly a missle-that-can't-miss (can't missile?), and have a variety of hilarious mishaps and run-ins with the bungling Christmas police, the bumbling king (whose tagline seems to be "Booooring!"), and a variety of Oslo landmarks. If you're not familiar with a lot of Oslo landmarks, that last cartegory might not be as hilarious to you as it is to speakers of the book's original language. But I'd hazard to guess that even American kids (and adults) will feel their ribs tickled by the adventure's irreverent approach to many cultural sacred cows – like a fountain in the middle of town lit so that it looks like it's spraying pear-flavored soda, or the monarchy, or the military, or Father Christmas, or holiday shopping, or the Finnish language (which nobody understands but that sounds angry when read aloud), and much, much more. I mean, I've not even gotten to the vampire giraffe cuckoo clock, but I'm out of time so you're on your own.

It's a book with kid appeal that has a streak of adult naughtiness shot through it, from the potty humor surrounding fart powder to the professional gross-out of Nilly's mom's constipation, all the way beyond that to a Santa who's used his downtime to sow his wild oats around the world. There's the nursery-level appeal of finding out what reindeer say ("møø") as well as the sci-fi wonderland of a Santa's workshop where the elves have been replaced with robots. And mixed in with it all is a taste of Norwegian culture, which calls the day before Christmas Eve "Little Christmas Eve" and Ascension Day the thematically appropriate sounding Kristi Himmelfart.

Jo Nesbø is the author of 12 "Harry Hole" crime novels in the burgeoning genre that has been introduced to me as Nordic Noir. I actually wrote an article about Nordic Noir once that was translated into French for a literary review in France, and it intrigued me to see that the French version preserved the alliteration as Polar Polaire. Anyway, the one book in the Harry Hole series that I've read, and that was also released in the U.S. as a movie (that I know of), is No. 7, The Snowman. This book, meanwhile, is No. 5 in the "Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder" series, which begins with a book by that title and continues with Bubble in the Bathtub (a.k.a. Time-Travel Bath Bomb), The End of the World. Maybe (a.k.a. Who Cut the Cheese?), The Great Gold Robbery (a.k.a. The Magical Fruit) and this book. Nesbø, described by Fantastic Fiction as a Norwegian musician, songwriter and economist, is also the author of Headhunters, The Son, Blood on Snow, Midnight Sun and The Kingdom. According to the very fine print on the copyright page of this book, it was translated into English by Tara Chace.

EDIT: Oh, my goodness. There's already a movie based on Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder.

No comments: