REVIEW: The Bat by Jo Nesbo (Harry Hole #1)

Series: Harry Hole

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: dysfunctional detective, romantic subplot, interesting characters, in-your-face action, Scandanavian/Nordic Noir

Quick Review: While unsubtle and taking more after the style of an American TV thriller than it’s Nordic Noir cousins, THE BAT is a quick, readable and diverting thriller that ticks all the boxes of its genre.

***

Harry Hole is a Norwegian detective out of his element in Australia, investigating the death of a Norwegian national. Although he isn’t really supposed to be involved, he discovers a string of linked murders, and ends up the de facto leader of an investigation into a serial killer whose identity is almost impossible to pin down. Hole has to try to fight his own demons off long enough to catch the murderer, forever changing his own life in the process.

This series is incredibly popular, but this is my first foray into the world of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole. THE BAT fits fairly squarely into the “thriller” category, and is a bit of a unique introduction to a character that many readers have fallen in love with.

As much as this is Nordic noir, it read very differently from what I expected. The prose was very direct and uncomplicated, as expected from the genre. However, the number of action sequences, gunplay, and the sheer number of fights that Harry manages to get into felt to me more like an American TV thriller than the gritty, realist procedural pieces that I love most about Scandinavian crime fiction.

In fact – possibly because it was not what I was expecting – I felt those moments of flashy drama detracted somewhat from the story. Clichéd American tropes were in abundance, from the romantic interest as a subplot to the level of overkill in some of the murders. And how many times can a police officer really threaten witnesses, victims, and gangs, plus get into fights with “bad guys” not essential to the plot before getting kicked off the force? Especially when he’s not really on the force in the country in the first place!

The other, lesser issue that I found with this book is that it started off slowly. Very slowly. Such a gradual phasing-in of the actual investigation happens that it’s almost mid-book before it really takes off and the focus switches from “Harry’s tour of Australia with the police as a guide” to “Harry investigating a case”. Maybe I am just impatient, but it took me a while to get into this.

While this all sounds very negative so far, the story itself is actually not bad, helped a great deal by the interesting nature of some of the characters. Harry with his emotional scars, Andrew Kensington with his colourful history, Otto with his drama that stays just on the right side of being a stereotype, and Joseph with his wisdom and unconventional life story are all versions of character archetypes that we have seen before. However, they are varied, likeable and fresh enough that you can’t help become somewhat invested in what happens to them. I have a feeling I’ll miss the latter three characters in future Harry Hole novels.

A quick note on the order of these novels: while this is the first in the series, this was not the first Harry Hole novel to be translated to English – in fact, it was the third or fourth. I feel like this would have made more sense as a third or fourth novel. The new setting and the unfamiliar places would have been better used as a fresh take on a character that we already know, and serve to better inform the Harry’s backstory once we actually saw what he was like on a “normal” case. Although I have not yet read any of the other novels in this series, this might be one that I would suggest reading out of order.

All told, THE BAT is a very readable, quick little thriller with characters that are interesting enough to propel the story and make you want to find out what happens to them. Read this to further inform the backstory of Harry Hole, but maybe come back to this one after you have read a few later novels in the series.

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