Vintage, ISBN 978-0345807090
July 2, 2013, 384 pages
I have read, I believe, all of Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series that has been translated. I am not totally sure honestly, at least in part because they were translated into English and published in the US out of order. Something I have complain about many times as readers here may know. So I was very happy to see that the first Harry Hole book, The Bat, was about to be released and was able to get my hands on a review copy.
So, first, how are we introduced to Harry?
A young Norwegian woman, a minor celebrity who went to Australia to do bar work, is found washed up from the sea at the foot of a cliff. All the evidence points to murder. Harry Hole, of Oslo Crime Squad, goes to Sydney to assist with the Australian police investigation. He is meant to act as an observer, and one of the reasons for him going is that his superior thinks he could do with a break. Not only from his alcohol problems. He was in a car which crashed and a colleague was killed. However, being a passive onlooker is not a role Harry plays naturally; he gets involved and in the end is drawn into the case, also on a personal level, as he falls for Birgitta – a friend of the dead girl.Now, what did I think?
Harry’s stay in Sydney leads him to seamy King’s Cross and the company of pimps, strippers, transvestites, pushers and backpackers. His mental and physical journey across the fascinating continent of Australia is set against the background of a traveling fun fair with boxers and the age-old tradition of clowns. The story seems to follow the – at times irrational – plot of an old aborigine tale about the Bat Man, a human-like creature with bat wings brought to life by crime. As the Bat Man awakens, Death appears in the lives of mortals.
Ok, that whole issue about not publishing this one earlier?
Forget it, I was wrong.
Yes, a look at the young Harry, some stories about his sister, his family, were interesting. As was the story about how his drinking once cause the death of a co-worker, something that was covered up. But, really, except for a few facts that would have been nice to figure out about Harry earlier, like the right way to pronounce his last name, I could have skipped this one.
I will admit I am not a huge fan of Harry. But this Harry is even more annoying than usual, without some of his better qualities, his humor, his sensitivity, that come out in other books and almost makes his likable.
While I like a flawed hero as much as the next person, there is something about Harry and his alcoholism that really annoys me, in this book more than in the others. He has not been drinking for a long time as the story start. Then a man he has known for a week dies, and that sets him off on an unbelievable drunken spree. I just don't mean off the wagon. He is off the wagon, rolled in a ditch, fell off the cliff, washed away in a flood... Really, should this guy be a cop, if he falls apart over the death of a guy he liked, but barely knew?
The first half of the book is not bad, the plot fairly interesting as Harry starts to discover some facts about this girl's death that had not come out yet, make a few connections. And unlike some readers, I did not mind that the book was set in Australia, rather than in Harry's Norway home. Still, "the fascinating continent of Australia" they talk about..I would not go that far.
But then things went south. There were page after page that could, IMHO, been cut, adding little to the story. Aboriginal dreamtime story after Aboriginal dreamtime which, except for maybe one, had no connection to this story that I ever figured out. Honesty, by then it was all so convoluted, the plot, the characters, that I was losing interest in the who and the why of the killings.
And I hate clowns.
Beware any book with clowns.
If you are a huge fan of Nesbo, you will want to read this.
I know you will not be dissuaded. Just knock you expectations down a notch or two, not expecting quite what you liked in his later, better books.
My thanks to Amazon Vine and the publisher for a review copy of this book.