Macbeth (Jo Nesbø novel)

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AuthorJo Nesbø
ISBN978-0-553-41905-4 (Hardcover)

Macbeth is a re-telling by Jo Nesbø of the original play, Macbeth, by William Shakespeare for a more modern audience. This is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project. Macbeth was released in April 2018.[1] The book tells the story of Macbeth in a dystopian, imaginary Fife during the 1970s.


The book opens at a dockside in Fife, a town ostensibly ruled by Mayor Tourtell, but actually run by whoever is the Chief Commissioner of the police, Duncan, who has recently replaced the despotic Kenneth. A shipment of illegal narcotics to the Norse Riders,one of the two drugs gangs in town, - is due and Duff, an inspector in the police has received an anonymous tip-off and plans to intercept the shipment. However, things go badly and Inspector Macbeth and his SWAT team - tipped off separately - has to save the day.

This convinces Duncan to promote Macbeth to the head of Organised Crime, which Duff is unhappy about, since Macbeth is a former junkie, though apparently clean. Duff has known Macbeth since they grew up in an orphanage together.

Going to the Inverness, the more upmarket of the town's two casinos, Macbeth and his oldest friend and mentor, Banquo meet three members of the towns other drugs gang, led by a man called Hecate, who sometimes calls himself Mr Hand. They predict that Macbeth will eventually become Chief Commissioner and that Banquo's children will follow in the future. Macbeth is surprised and mentions the prophecy to his partner, known only as Lady. She convinces Macbeth to murder Duncan at a party a few nights later.

Macbeth initially feels unable to murder an unarmed man and asks Hecate for some drugs. After this, his confidence is restored, but he still cannot murder an unarmed man. However, as he leaves the bedroom, he sees a reflection of Duncan preparing to shoot him in the back and turns, throwing a dagger, killing Duncan. Lady wipes blood on Duncan's bodyguards to implicate them and Macbeth later shoots them as they appear to be reaching for weapons after they are confronted by Duff and Macbeth.

The Deputy Chief Commissioner, Malcolm, is temporarily promoted to replace Duncan but Macbeth admits to Banquo that he murdered Duncan and convinces him to dispose of Malcolm. Malcolm signs a false confession in the guise of a suicide note and, following the discovery of the note, Macbeth becomes Chief Commissioner. The circle of murderers is getting larger and, concerned by the prophecy about Banquo's offspring later replacing him, Macbeth arranges the murder of Banquo and his son, Fleance. However, although Banquo is killed, Fleance escapes.

Duff is also suspicious of Macbeth and tries to find evidence against him. Macbeth fabricates evidence of illegal activity against Duff, and his SWAT team are sent to kill him. However, Duff is with his mistress, Caithness, and only his wife and children are killed. Duff escapes to the Capitol, where Duff meets up with Malcolm and Fleance and the three decide to confront and depose Macbeth, later joined by Caithness.

Macbeth manages to destroy the Norse Riders at the request of Hecate, but is blackmailed by Hecate before he can also stop Hecate's drug operation.

Lady is haunted by images of babies, following her killing her own child (born after being abused by her father). She loses her mind and, without her guidance, Macbeth becomes more unhinged, threatening everyone he sees as a danger to him, including a member of his SWAT team who appears to have betrayed him. He captures Tourtell's illegitimate son, Kasi, and uses him to try and blackmail Tourtell into declaring a State of Emergency - an act that would make Macbeth the de facto ruler in Fife.

Lennox, a former inspector who worked for Hecate is paralysed saving Mayor Tourtell. He is taken to Hecate in a wheelchair and drops a hand grenade into the drugs operation, destroying it and mortally wounding Hecate in the process.

Lady, who appeared to be coming out of her malaise suddenly commits suicide, leaving Macbeth with only two colleagues who actually support him. The three are holed up in the Inverness. Fleance attempts to attack them from the rear, following a diversion, but Macbeth has figured out the plan and stops him. When Seyton, one of Macbeth's colleagues, asks him if Fleance is dead, Macbeth merely says that he "took care of it". Seyton prepares to kill Kasi, but Macbeth stabs him before an old steam engine is released from its plinth and sent downhill into the Inverness. Crashing through the walls, it severs the ropes holding up the chandelier, which crashes down onto Macbeth, injuring him.

Duff prepares to arrest Macbeth when Olafson, Macbeth's remaining colleague, prepares to shoot him, only for Fleance to shoot Olafson. Duff tells Macbeth that he was not born of woman, but was cut from his mother's belly when she was murdered. Macbeth goads Duff into killing him, so that he can be reunited with Lady.

The book ends with peace having been restored to Fife, but with the brother of one of the drugs gang members threatening to destroy that peace.