In The Spotlight: Jo Nesbø’s The Bat

>In the Spotlight: Michael Connelly's The Black IceHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Jo Nesbø has become one of the most popular crime writers of the last fifteen years or so. It’s certainly more than about time I included one of his novels in this feature; so, by popular demand, let’s turn today’s spotlight on The Bat, the first of Nesbø’s Harry Hole series.

As the story begins, Hole has just arrived in Sydney. He’s been sent there to observe and act as a liaison as Australian authorities look into the rape and murder of a twenty-three-year-old Norwegian national, Inger Holter. Head of the Surrey Hills Crime Squad Neil McCormack makes it clear that Hole is welcome, and his status as a fellow cop and an expert respected; but he is there only to observe.

Hole is paired with Andrew Kensington, with whom he soon develops a solid working relationship. The two start work on the case, beginning with whatever they can learn about the victim’s lifestyle, employment, friends, and so on.

One of their contacts is Birgitta Enquist, originally from Sweden, who worked with Inger at a bar called the Albury. She and Hole soon take an interest in each other, and both are of course interested in finding out who killed Inger Holter.

Hole and Kensington look into the victim’s personal life; they find that she’d been seeing a drug dealer named Evans White, who looks like a good candidate for the murder. But at the same time, another police team member does some background research on other cases. It turns out that there’ve been other, similar rape cases, and seven murder cases. The one thing all of the victims have in common is that they were blonde. No-one wants to think of the possibility, but there is a chance that Inger’s death is the work of a serial rapist who sometimes kills.

If White is innocent, the task is to find a person who could have had contact with all of the victims, and Hole, Kensington and the other police try to do just that. The rapes and murders have occurred in different places all over the country, so it’s difficult to join the proverbial dots. But little by little, the team finds a connection. As they get close to the truth, they learn just how dangerous this killer can be. In the end, though, and after some wrong turns, Hole finds out who’s responsible for Inger Horten’s murder.

One of the important elements in this novel is the information it provides about Hole’s personal backstory. As fans of this series know, this is the first in the Harry Hole series, but not the first to be translated into English. For that reason, it ‘fills in the gaps’ for those who may have read other books in the series. We learn, for instance, that Hole is trying to redeem himself after a tragic incident that cost him his reputation. For that reason, he’s given up drinking (well, at the beginning of the novel) and is trying to put his professional life back together. We also learn a bit about his personal life. Oh, and for those who’ve wondered, we learn how to pronounce his surname.

Readers who started the Harry Hole series with a later novel (say, The Snowman) will likely find that his character isn’t as developed here as it is in those later stories. Like most series’ protagonists, Hole has evolved over time. On the one hand, this may disappoint readers who expect the Hole they’ve ‘met’ later in the series. On the other, it is an opportunity to get to know him from the beginning.

In an unusual start to a series, this novel doesn’t take place in Hole’s ‘home base’ of Oslo. Rather, it takes place mostly in Sydney. Readers familiar with the city will find place names and so on familiar. And in the course of the investigation, Hole visits some parts of the city that are nice…and some that aren’t.

Also in the course of the investigation, Hole meets a variety of offbeat, ‘fringe’ sorts of characters. There are clowns, prostitutes and their pimps, transvestites, and drug dealers, just to name a few. There aren’t a lot of ‘everyday’ (if there is even such a thing) characters in the novel. Readers who prefer stories that share the everyday culture of a place will notice this.

The main plot has to do with the death of Inger Horten and search for her killer. But there are other tangents in the novel as well. One, for instance, is the story of Hole’s youth, his relationship with a former lover, and the tragedy that he’s trying to cope with as he solves this case. Another has to with some Dreamtime stories that Hole learns from some Aboriginal characters (including his partner Kensington). Still another has to do with his relationship with Birgitta, and what he learns about her backstory. Readers who prefer their novels to focus on one plot line will notice this. It’s also worth noting that those tangents are interspersed in the main story; readers not accustomed to this sort of story structure will want to pay close attention so as to follow along as the story lines unfold.

This is a police procedural, so one aspect of the novel is the way the police form and follow up on their theories about the murder. In this case, Hole is a foreigner in the group. He’s there ostensibly because he’s an expert, and also because the victim was Norwegian. So on the one hand, it’s logical that the local police would want his input. On the other, it’s their patch, and some of Hole’s ideas turn out to be very, very wrong. Readers who are very accustomed to police procedurals will notice that this group of police doesn’t react in the way that most police would i.e. taking Hole off the case, or at least making other choices. Those who’d rather not suspend much disbelief will notice this as well. That said though, there are several twists and turns in the plot because of those ideas. Readers who don’t mind suspending their disbelief for ‘plot jolts’ will likely be pleased.

There is violence in the novel, and some of it is brutal (it is a Harry Hole story…). Some of it involves Hole himself, too. Readers who are looking for a quiet, more traditional story will be disappointed. But if you’re familiar with this series, you probably already know to expect some brutality.

The Bat introduces readers to a by-now iconic fictional sleuth. It takes place mostly in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, and features some very unusual characters who live ‘on the fringe.’ But what’s your view? Have you read The Bat? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 11 May/Tuesday 12 May – Dancing to ‘Almendra’ – Mayra Montero

Monday 18 May/Tuesday 19 May – The Devil’s Making – Seán Haldane

Monday 25 May/Tuesday 26 May – In Her Blood – Lisa Unger


Filed under Jo Nesbø, The Bat

34 responses to “In The Spotlight: Jo Nesbø’s The Bat

  1. robertmcdonnell

    What a coincidence! I checked this book out of my local library about a half hour ago. Are there any spoilers in your review? RJ

  2. Excellent spotlight as always, Margot, but not even you can persuade me to ever read another Harry Hole novel! *skips off lightly with TBR intact for once* 😉

  3. Thanks for your excellent post, Margot. This is one of the few gaps I need to fill in the Harry Hole series, although I’m not yet in a hurry to read it. I’ll read it in due time.

  4. I’ve read all the Harry Hole novels bar this one. I think the fact that it is the first one and the fact that it is not set in Oslo have been putting me off. I think I’ll give it a go though, if only to get some back story on my favourite fictional detective!

    • This one does provide some interesting backstory on Harry Hole, Cathy. If you do get to it, I’ll be keen to know what you think of it, since you know him well from later novels.

  5. My mum was a huge fan but then got annoyed when a quasi-supernatural element seem to be added to PHANTOM so switched off but I am curious to try these none the less – thanks Margot.

    • It’ll be interesting to see what you think of this take on the police procedural if you get to it, Sergio. If you do try this one, I also recommend you read a later novel or two before you make up your mind about Harry Hole.

  6. I’ve only read the one Harry Hole novel and I do think it was The Snowman. Like Fiction Fan though, I’m not overly bothered about reading any more. I enjoyed it as I read it but it didn’t leave me desperate to seek out further books to fill in what I’d missed. This does sound a great book though for anyone having read the series but not the first book!

    • Rebecca – Harry Hole may be popular, but that doesn’t mean he has to be for everyone. I’m glad you thought The Snowman good enough to finish, though. As for this one, yes, it does give some solid background on Harry.

  7. STILL haven’t read any Nesbo – must put that right….

    • There are so many authors whose work I ought to read and haven’t, Moira, that it’s shameful. If you do read some Nesbø, I’ll be keen to know what you think of his work.

  8. The only Jo Nesbo book I read was his standalone, The Son which I couldn’t get into.
    But your review has sparked curiosity and I just might pick up The Bat. (although I’m not a fan at all of brutal violence).
    Thanks for pointing out that The Bat although the first in his series is not the first to be translated. Useful bit of information. 🙂

    • Carol – A lot of people (‘though certainly not all!) like the Harry Hole series better than the standalones. I’ll be interested to know what you think of one of the series novels if you get the chance to read it. Everyone’s different, but you may wish to read more than one of the Harry Hole books before you make up your mind about him. In the meantime, yes, you should be prepared for some violence in this series. Things often are not pretty…

  9. Hi Margot – I have read all of Nesbo’s books – aside from his new release – I think his standalones shine. However The Bat is my least favourite – in fact if I had read this first I would not have picked up another of his books. Here is an excerpt from my 1 star review “It is banal, its language wooden, stilted and as an Australian reading Hole’s experience of his adventures in Sydney, Australia and of Australians, I generally felt let down and uncomfortable with the stereotypes and colloquialisms – of big waisted, slow witted, “dinkum” white Aussie males and the Indigenous cop’s voice felt stunted and farcical too – continually explaining the world in Dream-time stories and explaining everything very carefully… all the Australians had a dumbed down quality I did not like and I did not appreciate reading this interpretation of Australia and Australian life. (I did however enjoy the Dream-time stories perhaps worthy of a book in their own right but not relevant in this book) The political voice in this book was …annoying.” So not my favourite book Margot 🙂

    • Carol – I’m glad you brought this up. Since I’m not Australian, I didn’t feel comfortable discussing the view the book gives of Australians. But I can say you’re not the only Australian I know of who felt that way about the book.
      It’s good to hear you’ve enjoyed other books of his that you’ve read.

      • I am glad to hear I was not the only one who did not like this portrayal of Australia and Australians – as you can tell ithis really grated. I wondered if he had actually visited Australia before he wrote this – so many details re locations were inaccurate. Maybe when you write about an actual place you have to be a lot more careful about the details. When he sites his books in his homeland- I am clueless about the area – never having visited and so read away contentedly.

        • I could well imagine it grated, Carol. I don’t know whether he lived in Australia, but I agree about the importance of getting those place details right.

  10. Col

    This is the only Harry Hole – Nesbo book I’ve gotten to so far. Enjoyable but I haven’t yet rushed to any of the others.

    • I think the later ones show a more evolved Harry Hole, Col. And you get to see him in his native ‘haunts.’ If you do get the chance, I hope you’ll try them.

  11. I can’t tell if you enjoyed this novel or not. Did you?

    • I’m actually glad you couldn’t tell, Sue. It’s not that I’m trying to be coy; rather, it’s that this isn’t a review feature. I don’t do book reviews or recommendations. There are others far better qualified than I to do that. So if this analysis is objective enough that you couldn’t tell, that’s a good thing.
      To answer your question though, I think the later Harry Hole novels (well, most of them) are far better. This one does, however, give some of Hole’s backstory, and introduces the character. That, I think, is interesting.

  12. I rarely read serial killer novels, but my wife does and has read just about all of the Nesbo books, out of order – has THE DEVIL’S STAR from the library now. I guess the order thing has to do with the chronology of writing vs. translation. I did try about 20 pages of this one when it was here, but wasn’t pulled in.

    • To be honest, Richard, I’m not much of a one for the serial killer motif, either. Still, I think Nesbø’s done some good stuff. And I think you have a well-taken point about the order in which books are published vs the order in which they’re translated. For those trying to follow the series as it’s conceived and written, that can be a real problem.

  13. I tried to read this review, carefully, but I may have missed a point. Why was this book called THE BAT?

    I loved the part about the fringe characters, like the clowns, prostitutes, pimps, transvestites, drug dealers… to be sure, you expect the pros, pimps, trans, d. dealers, but CLOWNS?? That made me smile! The reference to the Dreamtime, and the Aborigine also interests me. I know a bit about that cultural tangent, so any reference to it makes me “prick up my ears” so to speak…

    Reading your review, made me, this time, think that you would appreciate my housemate. I asked him to tell me about a book he read. THE DETAIL he went into reminds me of your reviews! The book he read was, I suspect, a “one-off”, called THE DEVIL’S DETECTIVE, by Simon Kurt Unsworth. I read the blurb on the back, and was intrigued, so I asked housemate to explain – How do you murder someone who is already in Hell? Dead is dead, right? Not necessarily… I don’t go for dark stories, but I was intrigued by the plot innuendoes. According to housemate it is a mystery, a police story, with certain distinctive plot “twists”… HA! Anyway, I wanted to tell you about it. 🙂

  14. I started with The Redbreast (the earliest one out at the time) and have read no more. I liked that book a lot, I just haven’t gotten to the other books by Nesbo that I have, including The Bat. Too bad about the poor protrayal of Australians and that country.

    • I’m glad Carol spoke up about that, Tracy, because it can be a problem when an author isn’t from a given country. The Bat does give some interesting information about Hole’s backstory. When you get to it, I think it may fill in some pieces. And it’s interesting to see his evolution over time.

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