Cockroaches: The Second Inspector Harry Hole Novel
The publication of COCKROACHES in the United States is cause for quiet celebration. The appearance of Jo Nesbo’s groundbreaking Harry Hole series was initially marked by the somewhat out-of-sequence appearance of the books --- not an unusual occurrence by any means --- so that the first and now second installments in the series have been officially published here only recently, thanks in part to the marvelous translations of Don Bartlett, who continues to do yeoman’s work in this area. COCKROACHES, as with THE BAT --- the first in the series (published last year in the U.S.) --- again finds our Harry in a world-beating role, this time in Thailand, where he remains a large, smart and dangerous fish out of water.
"COCKROACHES is much more than a book for Nesbo completists. Some of his best writing and plotting are contained within its pages, which also provide insight into the tangled web of Harry’s personality, which has affected him over the subsequent novels in the series."
COCKROACHES was originally published in Nesbo’s native Norway in 1998, but the intervening 16 years has not diminished in any way the strength of the book, which is easily one of his best. The story begins with the discovery of the body of the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand in a Bangkok brothel. The man has been murdered to boot, his body discovered by a prostitute. The entire incident is a scandal in the making, which the Norwegian government wants kept under wraps. The call comes down from on high to send Harry Hole to Thailand to conduct the investigation. The request --- more like a command --- is seemingly unusual, given that Harry is not highly regarded professionally by his superiors, due to his penchant for defying authority and his seemingly near-constant substance abuse.
But Harry has been pursuing a path of abstinence and, when he reaches Bangkok, decides to actually do the job that he officially has been sent to do to the best of his ability, in spite of himself. This causes him no end of problems; what the Norwegian government wanted was the investigative equivalent of a lick and a promise, but what they are actually going to get is a real investigation. Harry begins turning over rocks --- language and cultural barriers be damned --- and soon discovers that everyone, from the ambassador to the ambassador’s pickled wife to her lover, had or have secrets. It’s hard to say who might have murdered the man, and harder to say why, at least at first. Harry begins following the money and, with some unwelcome help from the dead man’s teenage daughter, quickly comes to some uncomfortable conclusions. Distractions abound, from the constant traffic noise to the bars where everything and everyone is for sale, but somehow the worst of it all is found in that suitcase in the trunk of the ambassador’s car.
Harry finds an unlikely ally in the form of a Norwegian special ops expatriate, who provides him with an entirely new layer of insight into the case, putting everyone --- particularly Harry --- permanently in the sights of some very powerful people and their dangerous instrumentalities. We know from subsequent books in the series that Harry walks away to fight and investigate another day, though not entirely intact. Still, not everyone we come to know here shares a similar fate.
COCKROACHES is much more than a book for Nesbo completists. Some of his best writing and plotting are contained within its pages, which also provide insight into the tangled web of Harry’s personality, which has affected him over the subsequent novels in the series. There is great, powerful and unsettling prose and character development to be found here, whether you have been with the series since its first publication in the United States or are new to it. Don’t miss this one.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 14, 2014