I wanted to take a short break from the Neapolitan Novels and read something less dense, so I read the first entry in the Norwegian crime series about Harry Hole, the hardboiled anti-heroic Oslo detective whose inner demons don’t stop him from having genius insights and solving cases by the end of the book. I first got introduced to the series while house-and-cat-sitting for a lady with an apparent huge interest in crime fiction, and eventually got through five or six Harry Hole books, mostly in non-chronological order which was confusing at times.
The series’ setting and the Scandinavian names, places and atmospherics were always part of the appeal for me, so I was rather deflated to find out that of all places, Nesbo decided to kick off his series in Sydney, Australia. Naturally living in Australia I’m immediately biased but uhhh… really? Did I really want to read about Sydney and sit through a checklist of obvious Australian references? And good lord they’re laid on thick: let’s see, Tasmanian devil, Mel Gibson, Don Bradman, Australia Day, Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue, crocs and sharks and poisonous jellyfish… why didn’t he throw in Neighbours and vegemite while he was at it? Some Australian characters Harry meets start off with the ocker Hiya mate!! and then proceed to talk like pretty much everyone else in any Harry Hole novel. About the only Australian-isms I enjoyed were the traditional Aboriginal legends which I didn’t know much about.
The story is about Harry travelling to Sydney in order to investigate the murder of a young Norwegian girl. He gets partnered with a local detective who is of Aboriginal descent, and realises that the crime could have been the work of a serial killer with a fixation on blondes. He also meets Birgitta, a young and beautiful Swedish woman who works at the same bar as the murdered girl and could turn out to be more than a holiday romance. Harry’s battle with alcohol, a big feature of the series, is already fully formed here and I got to learn more of his backstory explaining why he is such a messed-up soul.
In retrospect, the series definitely got stronger as they progressed, but as the debut The Bat is not bad. The plot doesn’t seem anything special at first, but becomes a real rollercoaster with some shocking twists and scenes that have a touch of theatrical. The identity of the killer was a surprise I didn’t see coming at all, though the final sequence was a bit over-the-top and I could see the way it was going to end from miles away (let’s just call it Chekhov’s shark). Nesbo’s writing style is straightforward and functional, but just like in the rest of his books, you get the occasional offbeat or macabre touches and neat psychological observations.