On the whole...Nesbo manages the balancing act of being true to the original play without slighting his own interests as a writer: bleak settings, loyalty (or the lack thereof) among crooks, clever escapes from tight spots, the affinities between policemen and the criminals they chase ... Nesbo has repaid what may have been a wild hunch on the part of his publisher.
One of the pleasures of reading this book is watching Nesbo meet the formidable challenge of assimilating elements of the play unsuited to realistic crime fiction, especially the supernatural: the witches, prophecies, visions, and the mysterious figure of Hecate ... placing Shakespeare’s story in a late-20th-century world of drugs, gangs and corrupt civic leaders goes a long way toward solving this problem. 'Brew' — the term used for the drug to which so many are addicted — is at the heart of Nesbo’s novel and neatly straddles the murky world of Shakespeare’s witches, with their caldron, and that of modern drug labs. By making addiction so central to his plot, Nesbo also makes Macbeth’s paranoia and hallucinatory visions, so crucial to Shakespeare’s play, not just believable but meaningful in a contemporary way ... Gang warfare also informs Nesbo’s retelling and is well suited to the extreme violence of Shakespeare’s original, in which the fighting that is described and staged is ferocious ... In the end, he offers a dark but ultimately hopeful Macbeth, one suited to our own troubled times, in which 'the slowness of democracy' is no match for power-hungry strongmen who demand unstinting loyalty from ethically compromised followers, and where the brave must band together to defeat the darker forces that threaten to destroy the social fabric.
On its own terms, this is a 'fair and foul' crime novel with a vivid sense of place that will please Nesbø fans. But as an adaptation of Macbeth, it encourages us to hope that it might be something more special. In this, alas, it proves a slight disappointment ... Although there’s nothing wrong with Nesbø rewriting the Scottish play as a police procedural not a million miles away from his Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, it neither offers a contemporary response to its source nor entirely succeeds as a beat-for-beat update ... Yet there are compensations. When Nesbø has the courage to move away from his source, the narrative and characters feel liberated ... Ultimately, this will appeal to Nesbø’s substantial and loyal readership and admirers of the Hogarth series ... It may be full of sound and fury, but this isn’t a tale told by an idiot.
As the action ratchets up, readers may notice that this Macbeth entertains best when it veers off from Shakespeare's plot. Nesbo does what he does very well: The crazy drug bust that goes sideways proves this (it also makes Macbeth a hero, which later will prove equally crazy). What Nesbo doesn't do very well is discern the point of Shakespeare's tragedy. There's so much action that readers will be hard put to decide what matters most, the corruption of a community, or the rotting of a relationship ... While Nesbo's adaptation sings when he departs from the original script, it also takes him farther from the original's core, a tragedy in which hubris takes down the protagonist ... Which isn't to say there isn't a lot to like. Nesbo fans won't care one bit about the un-Shakespearean aspects of his Macbeth. They'll be rapt watching Macbeth grow more and more venal, like Walter White in Breaking Bad ... In other words, Nesbo has adhered to his contract, delivering a book that plays off of Shakespeare's work but succeeds as his own. Will readers love it or hate it? That depends on why they read it.
Nesbø infuses the mythic elements of the tragedy with bold strokes of horrific, Don Winslow–like drug-war realism. The result displays in a strikingly original way both the timelessness of Shakespeare’s art and the suppleness of noir to range well beyond the strictures of formula.
Shakespeare lovers will probably find Nesbo’s book clever and entertaining in its many intensely plotted sequences and in its offerings of high-toned tough guy talk ... Despite many engaging moments, however, the book is too long and loose. Nesbo indulges in momentum-breaking back stories for his characters and devotes too much time and space to their speculations about each other’s motives. He also drags out the story’s denouement, which involves a hostage situation and a large-scale assault on Inverness. 'What happens now?' Macbeth asks, near the end. You don’t need this many pages to find out.
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.
...if I had to pick one novel never to read again, it would be this one, a mammoth, self-satisfied, simple-minded wildebeest, creeping its petty pace across nearly 500 endless pages toward conclusions that are never in doubt ... Nesbø the stylist is vague, dull, moralizing and trite ... Nesbø’s success has lain in transporting the silly clichés of noir to Norway and presenting them as darkly authentic. There it works, sort of, as we wait to see what happens. In Macbeth, it signifies — well, nothing.
Nesbø orchestrates scenes of blackmail and fighting with the slickness of a writer who has sold 36m crime novels. There are odd touches of the supernatural, sometimes with a naturalistic alternative explanation. (The ghost of the murdered Banquo turns up at a dinner, but Macbeth might just be hallucinating because he’s high.) Nesbø finds some clever twists, too ... At times the novel strains credulity ... The book’s style, in Don Bartlett’s translation from the Norwegian, is workmanlike ... This is in the end a deliciously oppressive page-turner that, like The Tragedy of Macbeth itself, seems to harbour something ineradicably evil at its core.
The themes will resonate well with contemporary readers, but, at nearly 500 pages, the story feels bloated. It’s a clever reengineering of one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, but may disappoint Nesbø’s fan base.
Reimagining Shakespeare’s royal tragedy as just another chapter in the essentially unending struggle of working towns against the familiar tokens of criminal blight...is eminently in the tradition of the gangster remake Joe Macbeth, and Nesbø’s antihero has a chance to get off some trenchant one-liners about himself, his legion of enemies, and his town, which 'likes dead criminals better than duplicitous policemen.' On the whole, though, this brutal account is no tragedy.