Those of us in the United States who have waited patiently for THE BAT, the first volume in Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, need no longer hold our collective breath. It’s finally here, thanks in great part to the careful translation by Don Bartlett, and well worth the wait. This debut novel demonstrates that Nesbø, whose series has been throwing curves at readers ever since the books started appearing somewhat out of chronological order a few years ago, has been doing so from its inception.
"There is quite a feast here, and while Nesbø occasionally wanders off the heart of the matter to describe the local flora and fauna, not a bit of it is boring. THE BAT is a must-have addition to your summer reading list."
Just for starters, the entirety of THE BAT takes place not in Oslo or even elsewhere in Scandinavia, but in Sydney, Australia. Harry has been dispatched from his Oslo digs to assist in the investigation of the murder of Inger Holter, a young Norwegian woman who was a minor celebrity in her native country. Holter had moved to Sydney for romantic reasons several months previously and decided to stay, never imagining that she would meet her end there by being raped and murdered. Harry is informed by Sydney’s chief of detectives in precise and no uncertain terms that his role in the investigation is that of an observer and nothing more. A babysitter is assigned to Harry in the form of Andrew Kensington, the sole Aboriginal on the force. Harry takes an immediate liking to the charming man, who takes him on a tour of the highs and lows of Sydney, while the teetotaling Harry behaves himself --- for a while, anyway.
And yes, it is a very sober and well-behaved Harry who we meet in the opening pages of THE BAT, so much so that we wonder if perhaps we have wandered off the page and into another book. Yet this is still our Harry Hole, and soon enough the backstory that created the Harry we all know and love is revealed. As far as him maintaining the role of a silent observer, well, that simply isn’t going to happen.
Holter is the latest unfortunate victim in a string of similar murders that traverse the Australian continent and go back in time for years. Just when the Sydney police force and Harry believe that they may have discovered the killer’s identity, an unexpected tragedy sends Harry careening off the wagon. The only good to come out of that occurrence is that, as an indirect result, Harry discovers a clue indicating that the culprit is still very much at large. There is no shortage of suspects, but when a clever trap to catch the fiend goes awry, Harry is willing to sacrifice everything to bring the killer to justice in any way he can, no matter what it may cost him.
THE BAT is of more than mere historical importance for both longtime Nesbø fans and newcomers. It stands on its own quite well as a police procedural, while at the same time demonstrating Nesbø’s penchant for taking chances in new and unexpected directions. Additionally, the book serves as a bit of a guidebook to Australia, with attention given to the seamier side of Sydney (what else might one expect?), as well as folklore, folktales and cultural aspects thrown in. There is quite a feast here, and while Nesbø occasionally wanders off the heart of the matter to describe the local flora and fauna, not a bit of it is boring. THE BAT is a must-have addition to your summer reading list.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 3, 2013