The Bat introduced the character of Norwegian detective Harry Hole to the world, or at least it would have had it been published worldwide in 1997. As it happens it took until 2012 for this to make it out in English language in paperback by which point the success of The Snowman and The Leopard had sealed the deal for Harry Hole amongst thriller readers wanting something Scandinavian after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ‘Millennium’ trilogy was sadly not going to get any sequels (at least by the original author).
I wonder if Jo Nesbo would be so popular now if the first book out in English was The Bat. It’s hardly a masterpiece of modern thriller writing but I thought it was okay as a debut novel. I have not read any other of Nesbo’s Harry Hole books as I plan to read them in the correct order. I have them all sitting waiting for me on a bookshelf.
I was introduced to the writer after reading and enjoying the stand-alone thriller Headhunters while on holiday this year. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the writer – it’s hard to walk into a bookstore (I could finish the sentence there – such is the power of online shopping these days) without seeing his latest thriller and work colleagues have been banging on about him almost as much as that other Harry chap – you know the one with the scar and the wand.
So The Bat for me introduces me to the character of Harry Hole for the first time and I can forgive the navel-gazing that occurs in the book as the author fleshes out the character in three dimensions. There is no doubt that I know what to expect from Harry Hole in future escapades – he’s essentially a young John Mcclane (Bruce Willis’s character in Die Hard for the uninitiated) who likes a pint (maybe a little too much, and that’s a pint of whiskey by the way), follows unorthodox policing methods and isn’t scared of a bit of rough and tumble with the criminal underclass.
The Bat is set in Australia where Hole goes to help out investigate the murder of a Norwegian girl. We learn that the assignment probably has more to do with events back in Norway than Australia. Hole is partnered with a complicated Aboriginal partner from the local police force. The book is scattered with Aboriginal allegorical tales which are interesting but don’t help the story much apart from adding a dash of local colour. The plot progresses and Hole uncovers, seemingly inevitably, the work of a serial killer who has preyed on blonde women across several areas of Australia.
In the process of solving the crime Hole descends into a dark world of prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, drug addicts, transvestites and strippers. He also follows an introverted character arc but ultimately wins out in the end. The storyline is rather formulaic but features enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep the reader guessing. I was a little disappointed in how the killer conveniently places himself in a suitably awkward corner by the end of the book and the finale is on a par with the most theatrical of Fleming endings.
Apart from the Bond books I don’t really read this genre of books overly often (although I did read Stieg Larsson’s books) and so I’m not as jaded as some people (Nesbo fans) in this respect and this is perhaps why I haven’t reacted quite as badly as a lot of reviewers who have said that this book sucks. What this tells me is that the other books are better – which is really good news for me – and maybe Nesbo owes his worldwide publishing team a debt of gratitude for delaying publication of this book until recently.