No 591 The Bat by Jo Nesbo


I’m a big fan of Jo Nesbo and his dark, troubled creation Harry Hole. Nesbo has just published The Thirst, his eleventh in the Harry Hole series. I’ve read almost all the books, but thought I would go back to the beginning and read The Bat, the first Harry Hole novel written in 1997 but only published in the UK in 2012.

Following an accident that killed a colleague, the guilt-ridden and recovering alcoholic Harry Hole is sent to Australia to investigate the murder of Inger Holter, an ex-children’s TV presenter in Norway, who has been living and working in a Sydney bar. Despite being sent as an observer, Harry being Harry, is soon sucked into the case which appears to be the work of a serial killer, targeting fair haired women.

The Bat is an accomplished enough novel, but lacks some of the skills which make Nesbo’s later works like The Redbreast or The Snowman so successful. The setting will seem strange to Nesbo fans, used to encountering Harry in his Oslo milieu. The cold and snow of the Norwegian landscape is replaced with the heat and bars of Sydney. On his arrival in Australia, Harry is assigned to work with Andrew Kensington, an Aboriginal ex-boxer who is a well-written and intriguing character. However Nesbo uses Andrew as a voice for the way the Aboriginal people have been treated and the political struggles they face in general society. These passages are often superfluous and feel shoe-horned in to make a wider point about the debt owed by Australia’s collective guilt.

As you would expect from Nesbo, the book is well-plotted, but lacks the page-turning pacing of his later books. The story takes a while to really hit its stride but when the investigation becomes a catalyst for the resurgence of Harry’s demons it becomes more involving. In fact, Harry and those demons is probably the best reason for delving in to The Bat at all.


Throughout the series, what happened in Australia and what brought Harry there in the first place, has often been alluded to. Harry’s tortured nature, his alcoholism and his disdain for authority all have their roots in this story and it is interesting to explore the pivotal experience that made Harry the character that regular readers of the books have come to love.

It is also interesting to see the work of a younger Nesbo. While not as tightly paced or plotted as the later novels, there is no sense of an author finding his feet. His trademark over the top violence is here, along with casual music references and a thrilling denouement that more regular readers will have come to expect.

If you’ve never read the Harry Hole series before, this is now the key place to start; yet, if you’ve read the rest of the series, The Bat will fill in enough detail in Harry’s backstory to be necessary in its own right.

Nesbo’s second book in the series Cockroaches has since been published, so the Harry Hole saga is now complete!

Are there any other Harry Hole fans out there?


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11 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I have to confess that my only encounter with Nesbo wasn’t a success. I think it was The Snowman and someone gave it to me when I was in the middle of my Scandi-crime phase and had just read all the Mankells. But I just found it too violent – I was starting to get repelled by all the extreme violence against women and I’ve kind of moved away from that kind of crime book as it seems gratuitous. So I haven’t been able to give Nesbo a fair trial, really, and the books may be very good – I’ve just had enough of women being the victims of sick nutters! 🙂

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  2. I’m the counterpart to your reading experience of Harry Hole’s stories; I’ve ONLY read this one and have yet to read all the others. But I did have the sense you’ve described, and am glad to hear that’s the case, that the later ones were more intricate in nature, so given that I really enjoyed this first one, I’m certain I’ll love the rest. Unfortunately, I started this series, the Henning Mankell and the Martin Beck all in rather close proximity and have been crawling along in all of them ever since (committed to all – sigh). Do you wish that you’d been able to start here in the beginning, or do you think you might have set the series aside if you’d begun here?

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  3. I read the story the Snowman. I enjoyed the suspense in it. I haven’t read anything else by him. I thought, maybe wrongly, it may become too formulaic in other books as they are churned out quite regularly. I enjoy crime books now and then but seem to orefer strong women detectives more than alcoholic, messed up men that are all too prevalent. With exception of Michael Connelly books which I continue to enjoy.

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  4. Ohhh this was such a good review. I think I read The Bat after I had already read one or two Harry Hole books. You’re right that it works either way – it definitely fills in some holes (hehe). You’re also on the nose that it’s not as good as his later work. I am always caught out of order – I think one book is next only to read it and realize I’ve missed something. I think I have two books still to read before The Thirst!

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