Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books are ubiquitous. I doubt airport bookshops are allowed to operate without them. So when I found myself in the mood for some more Scandi-Noir, I decided to make Harry Hole’s acquaintance.
I’m compulsive about starting series from the beginning, so I bought “The Bat” which has “The First Harry Hole Thriller” written on the cover. This turned out to be a piece of marketing slickness – true but designed to mislead. It turns out that “The Redbreast” was the first Harry Hole book to be published. “The Bat” was published thirteen years later. It’s called the first book because the events in it pre-date those in “The Redbreast”. If I’d realised that, I’d have read the books in the order that they were published because it allows me to see how the writer’s style changes as the years pass.
It also turned out that I hadn’t bought a Scandi-Noir book. Harry Hole is Norwegian but “The Bat” is set in Australia and has much more to do with the shadows cast by Australian racism than with moody Northern skies.
Still, “The Bat” was worth reading, mainly for Jo Nesbo’s storytelling ability. I found the plot a little stilted. It all made sense but I really didn’t care that much. I doubt Jo Nesbo did either. His main focus was on exposing Harry Hole’s Norwegian sensibilities to the myths of the Aboriginal Dreamtime and what they tell us of “the dark forest of the human soul”. The tales are well told, slipping into my memory and finding a home there without leaving me feeling lectured at. It seemed to me that the plot is constructed to showcase these tales.
Harry Hole is an alcoholic. I sighed when I read that, it’s such a cliché for a policeman, yet it’s not a cliché in Jo Nesbo’s hands. He doesn’t use alcoholism as an accessory to dress an otherwise dull character. Nesbo shows what being an alcoholic means. Harry Hole disappears into a bottle and stays there, drowning in grief and self-pity, for a significant part of the book.
I couldn’t find much to like about Harry Hole but then, he can’t find much to like about himself.
I found a lot to like about Jo Nesbo’s writing. That is enough for me to keep on with this series and to be glad that I read “The Bat”
I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Sean Barrett, who did an excellent job, especially with all the accents required. Click on the link below to hear him at work.