Long before American publishers found a huge success with translating Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy into English, Random House (who seemed to be trying to build on the success of Henning Mankell, another Swedish author who was finding success in the states) began to release Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole (the word is pronounced as two syllables, with stress on the first hoh-leh) detective series into English. Hole, of course, is a brilliant and driven detective with unorthodox methods –the classic loose cannon in the police force. He also has many demons, including being an alcoholic.
But for reasons that seem silly, instead of starting at the beginning, with 1997’s Flaggermusmannen (The Bat), Random House (in 2005) began with Nesbø’s fifth book in his series, 2003’s Marekors (English: The Devil's Star). Then they would bounce back to the third book, 2000’s Rødstrupe (English: The Redbreast, 2006), the fourth book, Sorgenfri published in 2002 with the English translation –Nemesis- in 2008 before releasing the rest of books past the fifth one in order:
Frelseren (2005) (English: The Redeemer, 2009)
Snømannen (2007) (English: The Snowman, 2010)
Panserhjerte (2009) (English: The Leopard, 2011)
Gjenferd (2011) (English: Phantom, 2012)
Politi (2013) (English: Police, 2013)
With each new release, the Nesbø fan base grew.
With his success all but assured here now, in 2012 and 2013, Random House finally got around to releasing the first two books in the Harry Hole series, the after mentioned Flaggermusmannen (The Bat) and Kakerlakkene - released in Norway in 1998- English Cockroaches.
As a rule –though I’m unsure why- if I’m going to read a series of books, I have to start with the first one. But I’ll admit it was not until 2012 that I discovered RH had started in the middle of this series. And like a lot of my reading, I also knew it was going to be some time before I got to these books, so I was not worried that I would start reading some later work where he might reference back to a previous case (not yet released here) and be confused.
So the time has come, and I finally read The Bat.
Norwegian police officer Harry Hole is sent to Sydney by the Royal Norwegian Police Directorate to serve as the Norwegian attaché for the Australian police's investigation into the murder of a young female Norwegian B-celebrity, Inger Holter, who was residing in Australia. Harry is introduced to Andrew Kensington, an Australian Aborigine and homicide detective for the Sydney police, his nominal partner in the investigation. Hole is informed that Holter's body was found dashed on coastal rocks just under some cliffs north of the city, and that the police believe that she was raped before her death. However, her body was severely cut during her fall from the cliffs, and any DNA remains from the assailant that would previously have been present are now washed away.
When the team unearths a string of unsolved murders and disappearances, nothing will stop Harry from finding out the truth. The hunt for a serial killer is on, but the murderer will talk only to Harry.
Harry Hole is a wonderfully crafted character, whom like most detectives of this genre, is a tortured soul. And while we’ve seen the “fish out of water” and “flawed man” motif's many times before, Nesbø seems to have created a highly likeable, very realistic character in Harry. Plus his interaction with other characters, especially the Australian police force, comes off well.
My only complaint –as with the genre as a whole of the last three decades- is that we don’t see how all the clues add up. In the end, it’s the killer that makes a dumb mistake. And I think Nesbø also stretched credibility a bit by having Kensington know more about the killing than anyone knew, but because of honor (and heritage), could not fully tell Harry what he knew all along. While obviously we would had no book if Kensington told Harry (and his superiors) from the start, I’m unsure if a cop would do such a thing in real life.
I will probably get to Nesbø’s other books eventually –there are ten Harry Hole books out now- but they’ll probably be spanned out in the coming months and –potentially- years.