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Book 84: The Bat by Jo Nesbø

Book 84: The Bat (Harry Hole #1).
Author: Jo Nesbø, 1997. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett, 2012.
Genre: Crime thriller. Police Procedural. Nordic Noir.
Other Details: Hardback. 374 pages.

When Inger Holter, a young Norwegian woman and minor TV celebrity, is murdered in Sydney, Australia, the Oslo Chief Constable sends Detective Harry Hole to represent Norway's interests during the investigation. However, on arrival he is told by the lead investigator that he is meant to only observe. That kind of inactivity goes against Harry's nature. He is teamed with Homicide Detective Andrew Kensington, who like Harry has an eccentric style of investigation. They get along well. Harry soon proves himself to the Australian police and becomes more deeply involved in the case. After a few false starts Harry becomes aware that this might be more than a straight-forward murder but the work of a sadistic serial killer. Amidst all the danger he also becomes involved with Birgitta Enquist, a waitress at the bar Inger was working at, and they embark on a passionate affair.

Like Henning Mankell and other Scandinavian crime writers this first novel in the Harry Hole series was translated into English some years after its initial publication and out of order. The same is true for the second n the series, The Cockroaches. This was probably because both novels were set in foreign countries rather than at home in Norway. The persona of Harry Hole was obviously also in development and the novel does give plenty of background on what has contributed to his tortured soul.

One of the ongoing jokes about the novels in English is the pronunciation of Harry's surname. Here that issue is addressed when early on Harry decides to tell the Australians that his name is Harry Holy "so that he wouldn't be confused with apertures or orifices".

There is a great deal of background in the novel about Australia, much of it via Andrew, who is an Australian Aborigine. He and others in the story also weave in a number of Aboriginal folk-tales, which I enjoyed very much. One reviewer did write that this gave the early part of the novel the feeling of being a travelogue. It's a fair comment though it didn't bother me.

I kept in mind throughout that it was a first novel and so had some rough edges. The finale made me think Nesbø was uncertain of Harry having further adventures. Still I enjoyed it for all its convolutions and found it typically down beat despite the cheerfulness of the Australian setting.
Tags: crime fiction, police drama, translation
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