“The Kingdom” by Jo Nesbø, translated from the Norwegian by Robert Ferguson; Knopf (549 pages, $28.95)
The kingdom, as it is often called, is a massive piece of land owned by two brothers, located just outside of Os, a small mountaintop village in Norway. The land, mostly forest, is the inheritance of Roy and Carl Opgard, who have co-owned the land since their parents were killed in a car accident not far from the house.
The brothers’ dynamic, fostered by their controlling father and, in many ways, their meek mother, fuels the intricately plotted “The Kingdom,” a stand-alone novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, best known for his compelling police procedural about Inspector Harry Hole. Nesbø’s affinity for dark stories takes another leap as he explores the unshakeable bonds of Roy and Carl that go beyond being siblings. In ways, “The Kingdom” has roots in the Biblical stories of Cain and Abel, and The Prodigal Son, and myriad Greek and Shakespeare tragedies. The Opgard brothers were always told that it “was us against them,” and both took this to heart, confiding only to each other. Roy, one year old, also has spent a lifetime cleaning up after Carl — a situation without end.
Roy has never left Os, running a service station and convenience store, still living in the bedroom that the brothers shared as children. Carl fled to the U.S., and then Canada as soon as he could. Now, he’s come back with a wife and, as a surprise to Roy, a grandiose plan to turn their land into a luxury spa and hotel. For Carl’s plan to work, the village residents, most of whom have little cash, have to agree to put up their land — in a sense their own kingdoms — for the bank to lend the money.
The contrast between the brothers elevates the plot of “The Kingdom.” Roy doesn’t have friends, yet Carl appears to be friends with everyone, his “homecoming” a true celebration. Each wears a different face to each other and outsiders.
With “The Kingdom,” Nesbø builds a slow-burn thriller that leaps to myriad twists as he peels back the brothers’ strong relationship that is partially built on terrible secrets and tinged with violence. The villagers’ secrets also are revealed as mysterious deaths, abusive families, sexual dalliances and hatreds seethe below surface.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” takes a new meaning with “The Kingdom.”
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