The Bat, by Jo Nesbø

The Bat
The Bat is the first novel in Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole* series. The events depicted are referenced in the later novels, but not in such a way that you couldn't pick up the second book in the series and understand the characters and the plot. For years, this was the only way that Americans could read the Hole series. I'm not sure why, but the first book was only just released in English on this side of the Atlantic this summer. (Norwegian readers have been able to enjoy it since 1997. Lucky buggers.)

Later novels in the series allude to the case that made Hole's reputation: finding a prolific serial killer who has gone undetected for years. After a Norwegian woman is murdered in Sydney, Australia, Hole is called down to liaise between the Sydney police and the Norwegian embassy. He's told that he's not there to investigate, but, being the Harry we will come to know and love, he can't resist following his own instincts. The investigation is a chance for Hole to redeem himself after his drinking caused two deaths in a car accident back in Norway. He's clean and sober for the first time in years. Though he calls himself a man of middling intelligence, his intuition helps him make links that other coppers don't see.

In The Bat, Hole is partnered with Andrew Kensington, an Aboriginal detective. Kensington is as much a rule breaker as Hole is, making Hole wonder about what the detective is actually up to more than once. Kensington and other Aboriginal characters occasionally stop to tell Hole their myths and legends, as a way of hinting at what they can't say for fear of retaliation or lack of solid evidence. It takes Hole a while to work out what he's being told and I followed him right down those blind alleys. (Nesbø, even in this early book, is a master of red herrings that don't look like red herrings.)

This book was a fascinating read. I don't mind the wait so much now that I've finished it. It was great to see Harry Hole in the making, before he became the battered wreck that he is in later books. When I met Hole in The Redbreast (the third book in the series, but the "first" one available in English), he's almost fully formed. There are allusions to his past, but The Bat gives you a much closer look at how his motivations and attitudes formed.


* It's pronounced Hoo-leh, by the way. In Norwegian, an "o" sounds like a "u." An "e" at the end of a word is actually a schwa. The Australians in the book just call him Harry Holy.

The "ø," if you're curious, makes an "o" sound. The author's name, as far as I can work out, sounds like Yu Nez-boh.

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