Category Archives: Harry Hole series

Review: Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø (Harry Hole #2)

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CockroachesCockroaches by Jo Nesbø (2014, Vintage): Harry Hole #2

I began reading this series about four years ago starting with book 3, and I’ve kept up with it ever since. I was frustrated at being unable to read the series in order, starting with the first book, but now that I’ve finished the second, I’m beginning to understand the logic behind leaving these until last.

Cockroaches begins some time after Harry Hole solved a serial killer case in Australia and returned to Norway (this takes place in book 1, The Bat). He’s back to his old ways—drinking and brooding—which is exactly what Norwegian authorities are looking for. A diplomat has been murdered in Bangkok, and the situation is delicate; a known drunk should give the Norwegian authorities just the surface-level investigation they need. Clearly they didn’t know much about Harry Hole! As always, his amazing ability to notice inconsistencies and things that aren’t quite right help to solve a complex case.

The book is a good balance between the investigation, the various players (Thai police officers, underworld characters, and the city of Bangkok itself), and Harry. He lacks the hint of optimism that briefly glimmered in The Bat and is developing into the tormented Harry Hole of the later books, but this is an intermediate step on that journey.

The first two books, The Bat and Cockroaches, are set in sun-drenched, exotic locations, while the rest of the series takes place in Norway. In a way, this makes sense: part of the reason I enjoy Nordic crime fiction is its setting, which is so different to where I live, so I’d expect that perhaps Norwegians feel the same way. But as an introduction of a long-running Nordic series to English-language readers, the first two books—both of which take place halfway around the world from Norway—perhaps aren’t the best choice. Nesbø’s writing gets better and better as the series progresses (especially his use of alternating POV and complex interwoven plot lines), so Cockroaches was a step back in that regard, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying it.

I’d recommend the Harry Hole series to anyone who enjoys crime fiction with a strong character development arc. These books are fantastic.

This book was furnished by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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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