Nesbo, Jo - 'The Bat' (translated by Don Bartlett)
THE BAT is the first book in the Harry Hole series, first published in Norwegian in 1997. Seven of the later books have already been translated into English, so regular readers can here catch up with some of Harry's back-story: the reason he is persona non grata with his superiors in the Oslo police force; and an early love affair that has contributed to his rather tragic subsequent relationships with women.
The story itself falls neatly into two. In the first half Harry Holy (as he is universally called here) arrives in Australia to look for the killer of a Norwegian tourist. In the search for evidence and suspects, he is taken round various parts of the countryside by Andrew, an aboriginal colleague in the Sydney police, during which time he, and the reader, are given a travelogue as well as a socio-political history of many aspects of Australia and some glimpses into peoples' odd lifestyles away from the beaten track. There is an abrupt shift that heralds the second half of the book, in which Harry as well as other characters seem to have a personality transplant, and events shift into thriller mode. After some typical Nesbo misdirections, Harry finds himself on a frantic quest to find the killer before he commits an evil act.
THE BAT is a brisk thriller which uses its Australian setting well to make its rather standard plot distinctive to those who don't live there. Readers who have read the later novels in the series will enjoy the nascent personality of Harry, including flashes of his trademark humour, which reach much fuller form in time. Had I read this book before the others, I would not have predicted that the series would become a huge international success - nevertheless, THE BAT is a serviceable, tense crime novel with intriguing hints of what is to come. As ever, the author benefits tremendously from the excellent translation of Don Bartlett, who, thankfully, has continued to translate the rest of the series so far.
Maxine Clarke, England