While on a trip through the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago I picked up a bunch of books from Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole series at one of my favorite bookstores, Powell's City of Books. For a variety of reasons I didn't start reading the series right away, but did read Headhunters and The Son, two of Nesbø's standalone books. It's been awhile since I read Headhunters. Mostly I remember it being violent and funny in a madcap sort of way. The Son was also violent, but much more somber. The Son also included a not entirely believable romance story line. Going into the Harry Hole series, I wasn't sure if I was in for a gritty crime series, a funny crime series, or something else entirely. With a name like Harry Hole I half expected funny, but suspected there would be a hefty amount of violence deaths added in. Seriously, I wonder if the main character's name sounds like something a school boy made up in Norwegian too.
The Bat is the first book in the series. As it opens Oslo police detective Harry is just arriving in Sydney, Australia to assist in the investigation of the murder of young Norwegian women. We're told the woman was a minor celebrity in Norway but in Australia the victim was a waitress so I was never quite sure what made her a celebrity. Whatever her celebrity status the situation apparently merited sending a policeman from Norway to Australia and Harry, having recently gone through some difficulties in Oslo, is all to glad to get away to the beach. Once in Sydney he makes friends with one of the lead detectives on the case. It isn't long before they come to suspect that what seemed like an isolated incident might actually be the handiwork of a serial killer.
For me, mysteries are usually about the plot (the mystery itself) or the characters, rarely both. I have to admit that the plot of The Bat didn't exactly grab me. There were multiple times when I was either lost as to what was going on or where my mind wandered off somewhere else. Maybe it was the writing; maybe it was me being distracted; maybe it was both. It was a little too convoluted and over the top. I mean, of the multiple deaths that occur in the story, one involves a clown and another involves a shark. I'm not sure if the intention was to be comical, but it came off as comical albeit in a very gruesome way. Having one crazy, weird death would have been enough. Multiple crazy, weird deaths and the phrase "jumped the shark" is justly applied.
One thing I did really like about the book was the integration of Aboriginal history and its influence on Australian society in the story. This played heavily into the plot and the stories of individual characters. I appreciated not only learning a tiny about this subject, but also the acknowledgement that the problems of the past have not been completely resolved, and further that they may continue to influence the present, often in unanticipated ways. This brings me to the characters as a whole. While the plot was not entirely convincing the characters were intriguing. I am definitely interested in reading more of Harry Hole's adventures. Luckily I have a bunch of the books in the series already waiting in my TBR pile.