Review: Jo Nesbo – The Bat

The translation of Jo Nesbo’s books as part of the Scandinavian crime fiction phenomenon gave English readers some excellently plotted thrillers such as  The Devil’s Star and The Redbreast, and introduced the character of Harry Hole, an alcoholic, shambolic but brilliant detective. It was clear, however, that Harry Hole had an established back story developed in earlier books that had yet to be translated. The series continued to be published up to the most recent book Phantom but throughout the novels, an investigation in Australia was continually alluded to as a pivotal moment in Harry’s life. Finally, English readers are to read the story of his sojourn in Australia with the publication of The BatNesbo’s first book which has been translated into English by Don Bartlett.

Harry hole is sent to Australia to investigate the murder of Inger Holter, a Norwegian girl who was briefly famous in Norway as a children’s TV presenter. Harry is a recovering alcoholic who became sober after causing an accident that killed a colleague and is considered by Oslo police to be one of their best investigators. Harry is bluntly told by the Australian police chief that he is there as an observer but he soon gets sucked into the case where a serial killer is raping and strangling fair haired girls.

As I have come to expect from Nesbo I found The Bat to be a gripping read that was plotted with a satisfying amount of twists and turns. In the first half of the book Harry Hole isn’t the character that we have come to know. We do get a lot of his back story, including information about his Sami mother who died when he was in his twenties and his sister with Downs Syndrome. He is sober and respectful and seems to be happy as an observer, making helpful comments on the progress of the case. However, a series of events prove to be the catalyst for his demons to re-emerge and we begin to see why Australia has haunted him throughout subsequent books.

There were some slightly odd aspects to the narrative that Nesbo dropped in later books. Some of the descriptions of the treatment of Aborigines and tales of the Australian counter-culture seemed a little preachy and over explained. However the character of Andrew Kensington, an Aboriginal ex-boxer leading the case, provided an interesting glimpse into past wrongs committed against the indigenous Australians and this method of ‘show not tell’ was much more successful.

There are lots of music references throughout the book which I don’t remember from the other novels and also a theatrical feel to some of the scenes, including a Marie Antoinette guillotine style mock execution. There were however, classic motifs that we associate with Harry Hole novels, including the slightly over the top violence. The ending is pure Jo Nesbo.

I bought my copy of the book.

28 thoughts on “Review: Jo Nesbo – The Bat

  1. I’ve always managed to steer clear of Nesbo in the past, but I think this would be a good startpoint for me, though I’ll probably wait until it comes out in paperback or join the queue in my library. I like series where the characters evolve over time, but I’m a bit OCD about reading out of order,


    1. I think this book would be a good starting point for Nesbo, Colman. Funnily enough when deciding to read a new series I make it a point to make sure that I can read it out of order. I like reading books randomly and get a bit grumpy when I have to have read x before y.


  2. I read The Snowman a while back, not realising that it isn’t the first in the series, and while I really enjoyed it I haven’t been sure which Nesbo to read next. Like Colman who has commented above, I like reading things in order! Glad to hear that this has finally been translated so I can start from the beginning.


  3. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – Excellent post as ever. I have to say I’m very glad that we’re finally getting to read the first Harry Hole novel in English. But you don’t want me to go off on my rant about translating books out of order. You really don’t. Interesting isn’t it how authors and the ‘feel’ of their books change over the years. If I can make the time I might try to start this series again, this time in order. I wonder if that’ll give me a different perspective; I’ll bet it will.


  4. I like to read series in order too, but every once in awhile I’ll read out of order. It’s funny that I feel compelled to read in order because I think most series really get good in book 3. I’m not sure if it’s because the author is finally in a groove by book 3 or if I’m just more invested by book 3.


    1. Thanks for the comments, Rebecca. I hope all is well. I agree that by book 3/4 series are usually into their stride. I sometimes find it a bit daunting when I find a new series and then have to read it from the beginning. I’m reading Montalbano and Ed McBain’s 87th precinct out of order at the moment and enjoying both.


  5. kathy d.

    I’ve only read Nemesis and Devil’s Star by Nesbo. I thought Nemesis was one of the best thrillers I had ever read, riveting, intelligent, full of twists and turns. I found it unputdownable from page one. Then I tried Devil’s Star, wasn’t fascinated by it, and I figured out who was the culprit from early in the book, a bit too formulaic.
    I’d like to read The Bat, however, my TBR list is huge and my intentions to read certain books are just that — intentions.
    I read quickly years ago when I first began reading mysteries and also literary fiction. I’d sit in my room with a beautiful tree outside my window, with my radio on playing the top 50 hits, stay up late, get to high school late and read. Now I don’t read quickly and I can’t read anywhere near the number of books I wish I could read; hence, the huge TBR pile. That, and because for each book finished, three pop up on the list, so one can never catch up.
    I want to read more by Nesbo. He writes good thrillers, often with substance, as with Nemesis, about the plight of the Roma in Norway, but don’t know when this will happen.


    1. What a lovely picture you paint Kathy about reading with the top 50 hits in the background. I have to read in silence I’m afraid. I tend to go to another room if the television is on. My problem is that I find music so distracting. Interesting what you say about reading quickly. I have always read quite quickly and still do but the speed depends on my mood. The more stressed I am, the slower I read a book.
      I agree about that mountainous TBR pile!


  6. Great review. Definitely tells me I will want to go back and read this. I have only read Redbreast, and I loved it, but that was partly the flashbacks to World War II. I like stories like that and I have a passion for mysteries set in World War II. I have Nemesis. After reading that I will go back to The Bat and wait for The Cockroach.

    As kathy d. says, I can’t read as fast now and don’t read as many books in a year and I have way too many bookshelves, boxes, piles of unread books. And always getting interested in new (or old authors). A never ending battle.


    1. Glad the review makes you want to read ‘The Bat’ Tracy. I think you’ll enjoy it. I don’t feel so guilty about the piles of unread books I have. It’s the books I keep even though I know I won’t reread them again. I had a good clear out during a recent move and I’ now being fairly ruthless about which books I keep and which go to the charity shop.


      1. True, I have the same problem. Some books I keep just for the cover, and some I buy just for the cover and will keep regardless of reading… but if I have to decide between getting rid of unread books or books I have read, the latter will be the first to go.


  7. kathy d.

    Another distraction from the book reading is all of these great global mystery blogs. A reader has to keep up with them, and, where applicable, read the linked book reviews or commentary. This was not the case when I first began reading nor was it the case until fairly recently with the advent of the Internet and excellent readers/ blogs. I’m not complaining; it is a terrific development. But it’s hard to keep away at the books while the blogs are calling.


  8. Great review Sarah. I have bought a couple of books by this author but haven’t managed to get around to reading them yet. Might be a good idea for me to start with this one though.


  9. I can endorse loads of the comments above. If I didn’t buy another book in the next 10 years, I wouldn’t run out of things to read, but I’m still checking assorted blogs and having my head turned by this author and that book!
    I try and read about 10 a month, but I’ve also started a blog, mainly because when I looked back on my read list which I re-started in 2010, I was stunned by how few of the books I could actually recall. I think the blogging thing is more of a note-to-self in respect of a failing memory. It’s nice connecting with other book lovers though.
    Even though it does eat into time I could be spending reading another chapter!


  10. kathy d.

    Yes, Sarah, seeing these global crime fiction readers’ blogs is like opening up presents on holiday mornings. There are always treats.
    I would say that I enjoy reading such good website posts, by the blogger and then the comments by those stopping by. The day isn’t complete without all of the regular stops to read and possibly chat.
    I try to read Friend Feed every day, but feel no need to see my own words up there; I just appreciate reading everyone else’s thoughts.
    This is how I’ve gotten so many good book ideas — and such a humongous TBR list — and book piles and library holds.
    It’s overwhelming, but like good English or Irish breakfast tea with wonderful pastries — it all needs savoring, one blog at a time. It’s such a treat to see every day. And, of course, we want bloggers to read faster so we can read new columns, a terrible trait, I know.
    It’s all good. Does it matter if I’m reading the latest Kaaberbol/Friis or a new U.S. author’s book or if I’m enjoying blogs? Not to me, although I’m not keeping up with my monthly book-reading goals, too much to do.
    And now we must hear BBC 4, which I’ll have to download. But I will do that.
    Thank you for your blog.


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  12. Pingback: Book Review - THE BAT by Jo Nesbo

  13. Perhaps I am extra grumpy just now (it’s 39.7C at 9:20pm) but am nearly half way through this and quite fed up with it. I was contemplating consigning it to the DNF pile but thought I’d have a quick peek at some reviews first … you’ve convinced me to keep going but I can’t see this one ever hitting my favourites list,

    The mistakes he makes with Australia are annoying me – I realise you people in the UK and US must get this all the time as more people who are not from there set books there and probably make silly mistakes too – it’s actually quite rare for someone not from here to set a book here – and I’m not sure I like it.


    1. I’m fascinated by what mistakes he made in relation to Australia. If you decide not to finish the book, do come back and tell me what they were. I read it in blissful ignorance.
      To be honest I enjoyed this book from the beginning so I’m not sure it is going to do much for you as I don’t think it changes dramatically in later pages, although Harry Hole’s personality does.
      As for books set in England, at the moment my bete noir is the glamorisation of the 1970s in books and film. the 1970s in suburban Britain, believe me, wasn’t the slightest bit glamorous. It was slightly dull and very parochial. I’ve watched a few films recently that seem to portray it like vogue photo shoot. Wrong!


      1. In some ways I suppose it’s a similar thing that really annoyed me Sarah as annoys you about the depictions of 1970’s England – it’s a sensibility thing – like the entire east coast of the country is populated by oddballs living on the fringes of society but they’re all articulate to the level of post graduate professor able to trot out lessons at the drop of a hat – I lived in Sydney for years – it’s just not that bloody interesting. But also it was his use of Aboriginal culture that irked – far be it from me to suggest we’ve got a brilliant record of indigenous relations but throwing a few dreaming stories (several of which were mashups of the actual stories from different groups which is a bit of a no-no) into a novel doesn’t make you a bloody expert. And the ending! Oh good grief. I need a drink just to deal with how annoyed that made me 🙂

        The glamourisation of 1970’s England would be annoying I’m sure – possibly a part of the entire glamourisation of crime/gangsters that seems to pervade the world these days – the biggest television phenomenon here over recent years has been a thing called Underbelly which each year depicts a different era of Australia’s true crime history – but it does so in a way that makes it all appear like a jolly good laugh for all the boys (the girls mostly are there for sex) – something I’m sure wasn’t true for the many innocent people caught in the crossfire (literally).


        1. I agree about the ending of the book Bernadette. It is VERY Jo Nesbo. I know what you mean about the aboriginal culture. It seemed a little preachy in the book and, from what you say, it is incorrect so that it is a double no-no. I have been to Syndey once and I liked it’s relaxed feel. But any city is different when you are living and working in it. It’s good to have an Aussie’s take on the scenes set in the country.

          I don’t think ‘Underbelly’ has made it to the UK and it doesn’t sound like something I would be likely to watch!


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