Detective Harry Hole arrives in a steaming hot Bangkok. But its work not pleasure. The Norwegian ambassador has been found dead in a seedy motel room, and no witnesses have come forward. The ambassador had close ties to the Norwegian Prime Minister, and to avoid a scandal Harry is sent there to hush up the case. But he quickly discovers that there is much more going on behind the scenes and very few people willing to talk. When Harry lays hands on some CCTV footage that will help him unravel what happened that night, things only get more complicated. The man who gave him the tape goes missing, and Harry realises that failing to solve a murder case is by no means the only danger in Bangkok. (Random House)
I’m glad I decided to wait for the earlier titles in Norwegian rock star author Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series to be translated into English before embarking on the journey.
Although it had its weaknesses, I enjoyed the debut title The Bat more than some who read the titles out of order. I think many forget it was the author’s first published work. I found Nesbo’s writing strengthened, along with the Harry Hole character in this, his second outing, Cockroaches.
Like many works from Scandinavian authors, the criminal subterfuge at the heart of the Cockroaches storyline is complex and cleverly done, but the sagacious telling is what sets Nesbo apart from the crowd. The philosophical threads elevate the story to one about life, rather than one simply about death. Take this novel’s somewhat odd title — it’s selection is not merely for shock factor. Here is just one example of the varied and apt references to cockroaches throughout the novel.
When he opened his eyes she was holding the pool net trying to catch a large dragonfly floating on the surface of the water. ‘That’s a miracle,’ Harry said. ‘I was convinced the only insects that survived in this town were cockroaches.’
‘Some of the good ones always survive,’ she said, carefully lifting the net. She released the dragonfly and it flew over the pool with a low buzzing noise.
‘Aren’t cockroaches nice?’
‘Yuk, they’re revolting!’
‘They don’t have to be bad because they’re revolting.’
‘Maybe not. But I don’t think they’re good. It’s like they just exist.’
‘They just exist,’ Harry repeated, not sarcastically, more reflectively.
‘They’re made like that. Made for us to want to tread on them. If there weren’t so many of them.’
The acts perpetrated within the criminal underworld in Cockroaches are particularly disturbing and the gritty underbelly extends all the way back to Nesbo’s Norwegian homeland.
Thankfully though, Nesbo balances out the reader experience with vivid evocations of Bangkok and its teeming and eclectic populace. Also, Hole’s deadpan humour and wry quips between himself and the enigmatic inspector he’s teamed up with in this outing add well-timed levity. Harry Hole is a lot easier to like in sobriety.
I respect how Jo Nesbo takes his characters to the brink, whether it’s despair, addiction or the physical violence they are subject to. He strengthened his authorial voice along with his leading character in Cockroaches. I now look forward to reading the next installment in the series, the much lauded Redbreast.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
Genre: Crime-Detective, Drama, Action-Adventure, Thriller
– Watch this interesting interview with Jo Nesbo where he discusses the formative elements of his second ‘Harry Hole’ novel
About the Author, Jo Nesbo
Jo Nesbo played football for Norway’s premier league team Modle, but his dream of playing professionally for Spurs was dashed when he tore crucial ligaments in his knee at the age of eighteen. After three years military service he attended business school and formed the band Di derre (Them There). Their second album topped the charts in Norway, but he continued working as a financial analyst, crunching numbers during the day and gigging at night. When commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with his band, he instead came up with the plot for his first Harry Hole crime novel, The Bat.
* My receiving a paperback copy of this title from Random House for review purposes in no way hindered the expression of my honest opinions in the above.