Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Bat, by Jo Nesbo (Harry Hole #1)--Book Review

 Photo: Paperback book cover, at this page.

The Bat is a very well-written and very different entry into the Nordic Noir genre.  It takes place in Australia, first of all, and its chapters differ in length and in substance, as some are there strictly for plot, while others show a quick glimpse into Hole's background and personal life.  Other quick chapters are thematic only.  The result is that you never know what to expect when you begin another chapter, and that's good for any type of writing, and in any series.

The plot plays second-fiddle to the characters and to the mood and tone, for the first half or so of the book.  It then takes off and shoots through its second half, with the body count (and the red herrings) piling up.  But it still manages to pause for some interesting characters, including a parachutist / homeless man, a beautiful woman, a serial killer, a transvestite clown, and other assorted eccentrics.  It's not so quirky as it sounds, and it all comes across very real.

There's a bit of info dump along the way--about Australia, about Aborigines, about the drug climate, about the city of Sydney, about clowns and the history of clown performances...but it never stops the flow of the narrative or of the plot, like in so many Dan Brown thrillers, or others of that ilk.  You learn as you go, and Nesbo is clearly interested in what he writes about.  It comes as close as info dump can to stopping the narrative cold--but it doesn't.  It works.

Two minor caveats involve the length of Hole's drunken binge (a little too long) and the sudden demise of two of its characters, an Aboriginal detective and a pretty barmaid.  The pretty woman especially is given short shrift at the end, but even this complaint is tempered by the mood of the book, as it shows other women in Hole's life who met quick, sad ends.

The book is certainly moody--both in an uplifting and in a sad way.  I found it more the latter than the former, but that's up to the reader.

The bottom line is that this is a welcome change from the harsh climate--both literally and metaphorically--of most Nordic Noir, and yet is similar to it in enough ways that it clearly belongs in that genre.  As one of the blurbs says, it takes on the cliches and starts new ones.

Definitely recommended.

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