Review: The Bat

The Bat Jo Nesbo

The Bat by Jo Nesbø

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s one of those that right from the off, makes it very clear that you are, at some point or other, going to be introduced to the murderer. The story never follows the murderer, never tells the story from their point of view – like ‘Dead Men’s Dust,’ for instance. So, at some point along the way, you will guess who it is. Before Harry Hole, in my case. I’m not saying I’m specially clever or anything, but I have read enough of this type of book to recognise when I’m being lead up the wrong garden path and so my mind tends to wander off looking for the right one. As yours does. Or, you think ‘well, they’ve not been in it much, so chances are it’s them.’ There’s part of the problem with the book in a way, it is, underneath all the life in Australia, the telling of ancient Aboriginal stories and parables to illuminate the way, the alcoholic Norwegian detective, just another one of ’this type of book.’ Is it better than all of ‘them,’ though? That is the question the hype over him being the ’new Stig Larsson’ would seem to want you to answer with a resounding ‘yes!’ My answer is more of a cautious, on a knife edge ‘maybe.’

I enjoyed reading it, he tries a few tricks and effects with the writing style and presentation and he’s clearly wanting to make some sort of statement about the treatment of the original Australians. But it is, in the end a ‘whodunit’ that tries its best to lead you a merry dance. Though, as you read they are about to trap ‘the murderer’ but know – from the amount of pages (or in my case listening to the audiobook version, the number of hours) left – it can’t be who they, at that point, think it is. Obvious really. And a huge problem for any writer wanting to do that sort of thing, I imagine.

So, a fair bit of the final phase is taken up by the murderer painstakingly explaining to Harry – in reality those of us reading who haven’t figured it out – exactly how they did it. Never a good sign. Always a sign of the author not really being sure he has communicated in the preceding book, what he wanted to do, or not crediting the audience with having figured it out.

I must admit i didn’t find an awful lot to like about Harry Hole as a character. I didn’t think he worked that well with the ‘minor’ characters here. Even his relationship with the girl, felt more than a little strained. In fact, the minor characters were the more interesting. Especially the Aboriginal ones. Maybe that was the intention? But surely, the intention was to make them part of a whole and not to outshine the main character. He felt as cold as a winter’s night in Norway.

So. The start of a trilogy (or more). That you can tell by the pages of ‘tell me something about your past’ conversation between detective and girlfriend. Is it enough to get me buying the next one? Is it enough to get me finding out what the next one is called? Is it enough to get me thinking I would get the most out of it/them by reading them in chronological order? I don’t know. Maybe over the next few weeks it will settle in a bit better than it is settling in right now. Right now, the jury is still out.

Bonus crap! Not in Goodreads review (because I don’t want people to hate me) :

Problem is, he’s an alcoholic. You aren’t very intelligent if you’re an alcoholic. You’re not. Don’t try saying different. Don’t try coming with examples. You aren’t. Think about it. You think getting pissed, regularly, is gonna solve whatever problems you have, or think you have. And, by ‘solve’ you mean ‘hide from.’ You also know that you can’t, not without something of an almighty effort, stay pissed the whole of the time. Not for long, anyway. AND you know that if you stay pissed, OR if you sober up, the problems that caused you to try and escape them through alcohol, will still be there when you sober up, or if you stay pissed. They’ll actually be even worse than they were before, because you haven’t been able to deal with them while you were pissed. And I certainly won’t help you if you’re gonna try and run and hide in a bottle.
So how can I believe he is a super detective, when he is so stupid as to think drinking yourself into a stupor is any kind of a good idea?

Whilst on the one hand I don’t really think there’s enough here to have me off running breathlessly down to the bookshop after #2 in the ‘Harry Hole‘ series, on the other hand, there isn’t anything to put me off getting #2 either, if I should fall over it some time. That’s maybe the problem, for me. I found it all rather so-so. It wasn’t particularly exciting, challenging or thrilling, it certainly wasn’t gruesome – as someone who’d heard about the books asked me if it was.

So why? Why, a Scandinavian writer, set your Scandinavian-type novel (the ‘new Stig Larsson‘ if I remember rightly and it’s not because they both come/came from the same Scandinavian country. Stig Larsson was Swedish, Jo Nesbø is Norwegian, there’s a difference. So the ‘new Stig Larsson‘ tag, must therefore be due to a style of writing, or a style behind the writing), why set it in Australia? Why, in the first book in what was clearly from the start conceived as a series, take an achingly Norwegian detective all the way down to Australia? To throw him and Scandinavian Police practices into some sort of positive relief, when seen against their traditionally rather less up-tight Antipodean colleagues? Not really. The Australian Police come out of it all rather well. Better than they do in Dark City Blue and Out of Exile, which are actually by an Australian author. Is it to compare and contrast HH’s character? Hardly. He actually fits in rather well with his Aussie colleagues (though this too might be a deep commentary on how easy it is for a white person from half a world away to fit in with the authorities in Australia, than it is for the indigenous people, the original Australians – I might be reading too much into it). He quickly starts an effective working relationship with the officer who is assigned (assigns himself, actually) to help him. This may be to show that the more open Norwegian character fined it easier to bond with the Aboriginal people? Or are they both ‘outsiders’ in Australia? Who cares, really, when it’s buried that deep.

His character then? Not really, he doesn’t seem to have any quirks, or special Scandinavian abilities that mean only he could bring the case to a conclusion – apart from falling back into alcoholism…well, more like spending a couple of days rat-arsed (we’ve all done it), at the first sign of things not going completely his way. Then, all we find out about his past, troubled or otherwise, is what he tells to Eva (?) another Scandinavian. In Australia. So we don’t even get an Australian perspective on him “Ya call THAT getting pissed? I’ll show ya getting pissed, cobber!” None of that. He tells another Scandinavian, his Scandinavian background. In Australia. What IS the point of that? He could have stayed up in the ‘frozen north’ (as my mother thinks Denmark, where I live, is) and saved on the jet-lag.

I’m scratching my head to figure out why he felt the need to set this in Australia. Sure, there’s a fair bit of stuff about Aboriginies, their rights (or the lack of), their history under the British/Australians, their culture, their legends (which I struggle to see the point of as their having anything to do with the plot, or solving thereof, is so oblique as to be un-gettable). Maybe I’ll find out if I bother with the next one.

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