15 years after its original publication in Norwegian, Cockroaches was published in the UK in time for fans’ Christmas wish lists in 2013. I was given it by a very friendly chap at my hotel in Skiathos, but put off reading it until I could read The Bat .
Cockroaches is a much better read than the debut novel featuring Harry Hole. In a similar fashion to the first book, Harry is sent to a foreign land to solve the mystery of the murder of a Norwegian national. In this case the country is Thailand and the victim was the Norwegian Ambassador. Hole isn’t helped very much by his police chief or the Bangkok bureaucrats and although the local police team do lend a hand in investigations harry hits brick wall after brick wall, gets thrown out of a window, beat up, strangled and generally knocked about. He also struggles and manages to stay away from his own personal demon – alcohol throughout the book.
There is mention now and again mention of a underdeveloped back story involving his sister back home which I expect will be the subject of future books but, this side line aside, the narrative is a lot more focused than the previous book and doesn’t go wandering off on tangents.
Having read a lot of Bond books recently I can see some similarities between the secret agent and Hole. Hole however keeps his dick firmly in his pants this time around – seems like he is abstaining from all life’s pleasures in this one despite the temptations that surround him in steamy Bangkok. The plot has many a twist and turn and makes a lot more sense as a completed jigsaw than the plotting in the previous book. It’s certainly a better all-round reading experience.
Nesbo’s clever descriptions when Hole takes punches or blacks out are excellent and the more graphic scenes are left for your imagination to fill in the blanks which is a clever ploy. There is some commentary going on in this book regarding European paedophiles in Thailand which provides a very good background to the story and is not approached in the heavy-handed manner used by some writers who have an agenda. I also liked the fact that Hole still thinks about his dead ex-girlfriend and his recent Australian love affair that ended in tears – his heart doesn’t reset at the start of the book like Bond’s.
I’m really looking forward to reading the next book – The Redbreast – as I get the impression that the first two Harry Hole books weren’t Nesbo’s best works and based on the marked improvement in the space of two books I expect to see further improvements on a character and storytelling style I am already enjoying immensely.