Review: Jo Nesbo – Cockroaches

For those of us who were early readers of Nesbo’s books, the order in which they were translated into English was Jo Nesbo - Cockroachesproblematic. 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.

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.