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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Bat by Jo Nesbø and translated by Don Bartlett

The Bat by Jo Nesbø and translated by Don Bartlett (1997) – I was stunned by The Bat. It is a powerful book that happens to be crime fiction. I can see why the first book in the Harry Hole series was such a success when it was published in Norway almost 17 years ago.

I do not find sending the sleuth to a location thousands of kilometers from home often works well. The Bat is an exception. I cannot see the book working if it were set anywhere but Australia.

Among the striking aspects of the books is the humour. When Harry arrives in Sydney he dreads being called Hole by the ordinary English pronunciation. When the Australians latch on to Holy he is content.

Harry is sent to Australia to liaise with the Sydney police on their investigation into the death of Inger Holter, a young Norwegian woman, who has been strangled and sexually assaulted.

He is teamed with Andrew Kennsington a beaming and bright Aboriginal who establishes a friendship with Harry in a day. Their banter is engaging. It is a tribute to Bartlett’s skill as a translator that he preserves the funny exchanges. I think one of the hardest aspects of translation is to save humour. Every language has quirks in humour that defy easy translation.

Andrew’s recounting of Aboriginal stories is both fascinating and integral to the plot.

Hole is attracted to Birgetta, a beautiful red headed Swede, and she accepts his somewhat awkward invitation to go out.

As she wonders why he does not drink Harry reveals he is an alcoholic:

“All my life I’ve been surrounded by people who love me. I’ve been given everything I asked for. In short, I have no explanation for why I’ve turned out as I have.” A puff of wind brushed Harry’s hair, so gently that he had to close his eyes. “Why I have become an alcoholic.”

He stopped drinking, after driving a car under the influence which was involved in an accident where a colleague was killed and a teenager paralyzed. The psychological effects of the accident, especially how it was dealt with by the police department, have permanently damaged Harry.

It is a struggle for Harry to have personal relationships. Andrew and Birgetta breach his walls of loneliness.

Harry describes the consequences of being a detective:

“You’re a tiny bit damaged every time you unravel another murder case. Unfortunately, as a rule there are more human wrecks and sadder stories, and fewer ingenious motives, than you would imagine from reading Agatha Christie. At first I saw myself as a kind of knight dispensing justice, but at times I feel more like a refuse collector.

Harry cannot just be an observer, a police tourist. He joins the Australian officers in the hunt for the killer.

In the investigation, as Harry looks at the evidence, he wonders if there is a serial killer. As the police look at that possibility anxiety rises within the department that they may have a killer moving around the continent.

Harry finds it difficult to put the information gathered together:

“It’s a bad job on God’s part to give a man with so little intelligence such a good eye for detail, ….”

The bat, an aboriginal symbol of death, provides the perfect title for the book.

Harry Hole reminds me of another Harry, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. Each man has great determination. Their intense focus lets them put together clues other police officers have been unable to assemble. Both are flawed men in their personalities. Each battles sorrow.

It was a book that left me wanting, almost desperately, to know what happens next to Harry Hole. The Bat left me haunted by Harry. Lauren, my older son’s girlfriend, had given me The Bat and Cockroaches as Christmas gifts. While I usually prefer not to read books back to back from a series as too often I find it makes me tired of the characters I started reading Cockroaches, the second book in the series, as soon as I finished The Bat. (Jan. 5/14)

12 comments:

  1. It is endlessly fascinating to me how we all react so differently to books - even people who share interests and some likes/dislikes. I really didn't think much of The Bat at all for a variety of reasons - the local content was largely unbelievable (and somewhat preachy) and quite a bit of it just wrong, I never believed any police force anywhere would put up with Harry's nonsense guesswork disguised as policing when it kept getting people killed...and boy I thought it needed a damned good edit (but then I always think that with Nesbo).

    Still I am glad you enjoyed it so much Bill...always good to hear about people being bowled over by a book :)

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    1. Bernadette: Thanks for your Australian perspective.

      I have visited Australia once and spent but a week in Sydney. As a tourist I remember a good deal of Sydney in the same way as Harry Hole.

      Now on editing. I was just grateful it was a Scandinavian book that did not go on for another 100 pages.

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  2. Am glad you have enjoyed The Bat that much Bill. You're in for a treat with this series.

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    1. Jose Ignacio: Thanks for the encouragement.

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  3. Bill - I'm glad you enjoyed the novel. I have to say I've read so many different kinds of reviews of this one. And what's interesting is that most people either have loved it or not liked it at all. That is, very little neutrality.

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    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. You have mentioned to remain neutral in your comment. Does that mean you have not read the book?

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  4. Loved your review, Bill, and then had lots of fun reading the varying views that followed! I love Nesbo and Hole but didn't realize the first book was available. Also have been meaning to read Michael Connelly so thanks a bunch for making my TBR pile that much bigger!!!!

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    1. Debra: Thanks for coming by again. How many of the Hole books have you read?

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  5. Sounds like you had a great reading experience. I have only read Redbreast, the third in the series and the first one available when I read it. Not sure whether I will go back and read The Bat and Cockroaches next, or just read Nemesis and Devil's Star, which I already have.

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    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I am not sure how significant it is to read the earliest books in the series. From what I can tell the series is a form of narrative with plot and character development proceeding chronologically.

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  6. Only read Nemesis and Devil's Star. Nemesis is one of best thrillers ever.

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    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Just finished Cockroaches and will have a review up this evening.

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