Review: The Bat by Jo Nesbø

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TheBatThe Bat by Jo Nesbø (Vintage, 2013), Book 1 of the Harry Hole series

Blurb: Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad is dispatched to Sydney to observe a murder case.  Harry is free to offer assistance, but he has firm instructions to stay out of trouble. The victim is a twenty-three year old Norwegian woman who is a minor celebrity back home. Never one to sit on the sidelines, Harry befriends one of the lead detectives, and one of the witnesses, as he is drawn deeper into the case.  Together, they discover that this is only the latest in a string of unsolved murders, and the pattern points toward a psychopath working his way across the country. As they circle closer and closer to the killer, Harry begins to fear that no one is safe, least of all those investigating the case.

Generally speaking, I prefer to start with the first book when I’m reading a series. I first picked up one of Jo Nesbø’s books purely by chance; I was staying in a hotel that had a huge book exchange and happened upon The Redbreast. That was my introduction to Harry Hole—and indeed to Nordic fiction beyond Smilla and Lisbeth Salander—and this continues to be a favorite series for me, with Harry Hole being an iconic figure in Nordic crime fiction. The Bat, the first book in the series, is finally available in the U.S. It’s a good debut, a very good debut, but having read six books in the series, each of them written and published after this one, I find myself comparing it to Nesbø’s later, more polished work, which I think is probably a bit unfair. At the same time, it’s wonderful to finally have the full story of Harry’s visit to Australia because those events have a major impact on Hole’s life and career and are referred to throughout the series, and it’s been frustrating not to be able to find out what happened.

Harry Hole has just arrived in Sydney to assist in the investigation of the murder of a Norwegian woman. He’s newly sober, and this is an opportunity for him to take stock of his life and try to get his career back on track. I enjoyed getting to know young, idealistic, and even—dare I say it—happy Harry, who still believed in love and the future and the possibility of a successful career. He meets some amazing characters in Australia (which is such a far cry from gloomy Scandinavia that the very feel of the book is different from the later books in the series). Working with the Australian police, Harry navigates the twists and turns of what turns out to be a surprisingly complex mystery. As with his later books, Nesbø is able to integrate multiple subplots into a cohesive whole; however, unlike his later books, this one is told almost exclusively from Harry’s POV, which makes it a little simpler than later books in the series (which, again, makes sense for a debut).

Alas, as always seems to be the case with Harry, things fall apart—and thus continues Harry’s struggle with his demons and his endless downward spiral. And even though I knew what was going to happen in Harry’s life (the frustrating part of translating books 1 and 2 only after books 3-9 were translated), I found myself hoping that he’d avoid temptation. Of course, then he wouldn’t be the dark, tortured Harry Hole who’s kept so many readers so intrigued over the years.

If you enjoy dark Nordic crime fiction and haven’t read any of Jo Nesbø’s books, I would suggest starting with this one. While the plots of the books aren’t necessarily interconnected, the central focus of the series is Harry Hole, and Nesbø has done a brilliant job of character development, as well as increasingly complex plot lines, and it would help to start at the beginning of all of that rather than hopscotching around. The Cockroaches, the second book in the series, should be available soon in English, which makes me very happy indeed.

This book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 4 stars

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3 responses »

  1. I started with The Redbreast, which starts a sort of trilogy, but I haven’t gone back to the first books in the series because I’ve read mixed reviews of them and because I read somewhere that Nesbo thought he didn’t develop Harry very well until book 3. The series is fantastic so far!

    • I’ve really enjoyed this series. I am always amazed at how much more translated crime fiction is available in the UK than in the US–thank goodness we’re finally getting the Nesbø books here!

  2. Pingback: Review: Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø (Harry Hole #2) | Red Panda Reads

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