Nesbo, Jo - 'Cockroaches' (translated by Don Bartlett)
COCKROACHES is the second in the Harry Hole series, immediately preceding THE REDBREAST in the sequence, although unfortunately only translated into English in late 2013. At the beginning of COCKROACHES Harry has been traumatised by events in THE BAT, the first book in the series, and has proceeded to drown his sorrows and is a more or less functioning alcoholic. His colleagues have to attempt to literally physically drag him away from his local bar, to meet with his boss about an urgent new case.
Harry's new case involves the murder in Bangkok of the Norwegian ambassador, Atle Molnes. Molnes has been found stabbed to death in a brothel masquerading as a motel. The Norwegian diplomatic establishment is keen to hush up the matter as much as possible, as the ambassador had been a leading Christian Democrat politician close to the prime minister, and have made the surprising choice of Hole to send out to Bangkok to assist the Thai police team to discreetly investigate the death. Harry only agrees to take the job as leverage for permission to carry on investigating the distressing assault that his disabled sister was subjected to.
Struggling to adjust to the heat and hectic traffic of Bangkok, and combating alcohol withdrawal symptoms, Harry works with Liz Crumley, the larger than life part-American part-Thai police captain, and her team. They delve amongst the Norwegian expat community, Molne's widow and striking teenage daughter, Runa, and the Thai underworld of gangsters, loan sharks and drug dealers to find out the truth about Molnes' death. Harry's task is made even harder by his wrangles with the diplomats back home in Oslo, and the crumbs of information they are doling out to him.
COCKROACHES is an impressive early instalment in the Harry Hole series, fleshing out the background about Harry Hole's family life and romantic history that helps make sense of his self-destructive streak and battles with addiction that continue throughout the series. Bangkok is an intriguing setting for Harry Hole's investigation, as Jo Nesbo looks unflinchingly at the more sordid, not to say criminal side of expat life, including child pornography, prostitution, drugs and corruption and the Thai authorities' and NGOs' attempts to combat them. It is a shame that it has taken so long for this book to appear in English, but at least now English speaking readers have the opportunity to read this series in translation in its original order.
Laura Root, England