Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo launched his latest thriller with a special event in Harrogate. JULIAN COLE listens in as the creator of the Harry Hole books discusses the strange genesis of his new novel.

JO NESBO certainly cuts a cool dash. This is fitting for a best-selling crime writer from a cold country. Doubly apposite, perhaps, as his most famous thriller is called The Snowman and his latest book is entitled Blood On Snow.

As measures of coolness go, how many other crime writers can claim to have been a professional footballer? Or, come to that, to be a member of a band that once had the number two album in Norway?

Norwegian crime writer Nesbo scores on both those measures, and more.

The writer of the Harry Hole novels was at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate on Wednesday night to launch his new novel, in which Hole does not appear, and as a taster for this summer's Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

As Nesbo settled on the stage, nattily dressed and mildly rumpled, charming and funny, he first told his interviewer, the broadcaster Mark Lawson, why he was wearing huge orange-tinted glasses. This was not, he joked, an attempt to ape Bono, but due to an eye problem.

Strange glasses explained, Nesbo went on to tell the story behind Blood On Snow. This is a very short book, almost poetic in feel, which tracks the downfall of a hitman whose humanity is his undoing.

A romantic at heart, Olav finally meets the woman of his dreams. But love doesn't run smoothly. She's his boss's wife. And he's just been hired to kill her. A neat scenario in a book that has a seam of dark comedy.

The novel is set in the 1970s in a snow-bound Oslo in which two drug barons are at war. One is Olav's boss, the other is a fishmonger with a sideline; both of them would happily see him dead.

Blood On Snow originally started life as a book within a book, as Nesbo explained.

"The whole idea for the book started with another book. I was in Toronto and I came to the airport. It's a thing in the United States and Canada that at the airport, they will pick you up in a limo. No matter how few books you sell, they will pick you up, and of course you can tell how many books you sell by the size of the car.

"When I came out there was a guy in front. I sat in the car, there was a guy in the driving seat and then another guy jumped in the passenger seat and they started speaking Russian, and the Russian language is hard and rough and dangerous."

The limo set off. "I'd been in Toronto and I knew this wasn't the right way, and then I thought this would be the perfect kidnapping."

This provided the inspiration for a thriller called The Kidnapping Of Tom Johansen. The kidnapper is a man down on his luck, a struggling salesman whose wife is pregnant after losing a child before. Then their house burns down and he has no insurance.

"So he goes to the airport to kidnap a rich guy. He's a most unlucky guy because he kidnaps Tom Johansen, a poor writer who had a minor success with a book called Blood On Snow in the 1970s in the United States and he's been touring ever since and he's never written anything good ever since.

"He's still touring, his limos are getting smaller, the hotel rooms are getting smaller, fewer people are coming to his readings, and then he gets kidnapped. This is what they call express kidnapping.

"Kidnap someone, take them to the ATM and get money and release them in two hours. Then he finds out that Tom Johansen doesn't have any money."

But it turns out that Johansen sees advantages in being kidnapped.

"He's a disillusioned Norwegian crime writer who has peaked and is a womaniser and a drinker and he hasn't heard his name on the radio for a long, long time and then they are listening to the radio and they hear his name because he didn't turn up for the signing, so he refuses to be released."

While he was writing The Kidnapping of Tom Johansen, Nesbo became so curious about Blood On Snow and its sequel, Blood On Snow Two, that he decided to write the books.

"So I came up with the idea how about if I just write those two books and publish discretely under the name of Tom Johansen, and say that these are reprints of classic crime novels. I was having a lot of fun with this, and my agent and publishing houses were okay with this, but then the lawyers ruined the whole thing.

"They said you can use a pseudonym and publish a book, but you can't claim this was a real writer who wrote a book in the 1970s. That would be false marketing. So in the end we did it the old way."

That's why Nesbo's name appears on the front of the book, and not Tom Johansen's. But all is not lost. As the writer told Lawson, he is still working on The Kidnapping Of Tom Johansen, and the book will be published at a later date.

As for Harry Hole fans, they should not despair. Nesbo revealed that there will be further misadventures for Mr Hole.

Blood On Snow is published by Harvill Secker. The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is at the Old Swan Hotel in July.