For those of us who were early readers of Nesbo’s books, the order in which they were translated into English was problematic. Hole had clearly spent time in both Australia and Thailand working on cases that had impacted on his professional and personal life. But we, as readers, had no idea of the substance of these investigations. The Australian conundrum was finally solved last year with the publication of Nesbo’s first book The Bat which, confusingly, introduced us to a sober Harry Hole. Nesbo’s second book, Cockroaches, has also recently been translated and, finally, we discover what actually happened during Harry’s Thai sojourn.
Harry Hole, off the Jim Beam but killing himself with beer, is sent by his boss to Thailand to investigate the death of the Norwegian ambassador in a motel room. Following a recent scandal involving a prominent Norweigian citizen and child pornography, the governments of both Norway and Thailand are keen to avoid any scandal. Harry discovers that the death consists of layers of deception that need unravelling in the Thai heat. We get a glimpse into the excesses of expat life, the seedy underbelly of prostitutes plying their trade and a police force trying to solve a crime under the scrutiny of those wanting to protect their political positions.
Although only Nesbo’s second book, this is a much more assured narrative than The Bat. We see Hole using his intuition and investigative skills to solve a case, while wrestling with his demons from the past. The fact that he’s not always successful in either case adds an air of vulnerability to the character and uncertainty for the reader as to how many victims we can expect until the plot is resolved. The Thai setting is a familiar one for crime readers although we also get a fair bit of the history of the country which I thought was well done. The Bat was criticised by some Australian readers for its incorrect portrayal of the Aboriginal past. I wonder how successful Nesbo was also at accurately depicting the history of the sex trade in Thaliand but it certainly made interesting reading.
I’m sure that Nesbo’s existing fans will enjoy this book. For me, it was one of the most engaging ones that he’s written although I can never make up my mind if his plot’s are deceptively simple or fiendishly complicated. I suppose the fact I can’t decide is a credit to the writer.
Thanks to Vintage for me review copy. The translation was by Don Bartlett.