I am loathe to start a series (like I did here — And So It Begins!) and not complete it. But I feel like I gave Harry Hole one hell of an effort, and after three very long books, I’m going to retire him early. These are not bad thrillers by any means. But there’s about 10 more in the series and the first three were each about 3 star books, so I’m calling it quits. But not before I review them!
The Bat (Harry Hole #1) by Jo Nesbø
“In traditional crime fiction every detective with any self-respect has an unfailing nose for when people are lying. It’s bullshit! Human nature is a vast impenetrable forest which no one can know in its entirety. Not even a mother knows her child’s deepest secrets.”
Book #1 takes place in Sydney. A Norwegian woman is murdered, and since she’s a little famous, Norwegian detective Harry Hole gets sent to investigate her case. But not to work too hard on it — he’s just supposed to be offering advice, not getting involved. He, of course, gets super involved. Harry befriends the lead detective (an Aboriginal man named Andrew Kensington), sleeps with one of the witnesses (Birgitta), and generally pokes around until something terrible happens. He very clearly used to have a drinking problem, and now abstains. He also has some sort of sordid past that’s hinted at, but not revealed until the end. I do feel said sordid past lent a lot of power to his character — once you find out that bit about him, he’s a much more interesting character. Unfortunately, when terrible things begin to happen, he starts drinking again. Honestly, the most interesting aspect of this book is Andrew Kensington, and his insights into Aboriginal history and culture — a subject I know little about but found fascinating.
Cockroaches (Harry Hole #2) by Jo Nesbø
So titled because sex offenders in Thailand are like cockroaches: for every cockroach you see in your hotel room, there are hundreds behind the walls. It does not get more pleasant than that.
“Yeah, but I guess sometimes it’s easier to take responsibility for the dead instead of the living. The rest of us have to look after them, Harry. The living. After all, that’s the responsibility that drives us.”
In book #2, Harry is still trying his damn best to drink himself to death. His bosses send him to Thailand to investigate the murder of a Norwegian ambassador — hoping he can focus on something besides a barstool for a while. Thailand, which I have seen as a destination for so many murdered Europeans in crime novels that I will definitely never add it to my bucket list, turns out to be full of murdering pedophiles and Harry encounters every damn one. When he discovers, however, that the perpetrator of this particular crime was likely Norwegian himself, his bosses suddenly change their minds about this investigation. Working with the locals, Harry persists. This book talks a lot more about Harry’s family — his deceased mother, his depressed father, and his sister, who appears to suffer some sort of mental disability but also brings a lot of light to Harry’s life.
The Redbreast (Harry Hole #3) by Jo Nesbø
The scope of this third novel is massive — part of the story takes place during World War II, while we follow Harry in modern day Oslo trying to find a bomber. I definitely think it was better written than the first two, although its distinction as (literally) “the Best Norwegian Crime Novel ever” seems a bit…much. It was long and pretty confusing in places, and Harry becomes less likable with every novel, I swear.
In The Redbreast, Harry has been assigned to a security detail for a visiting U.S. president. In the process, he shoots someone he suspects of being an assassin — who turns out to be Secret Service. Since the Secret Service guy screwed up by being in a position to be shot, Harry gets promoted for this mistake so that no one loses face. Harry then ends up pursuing a case involving Neo-Nazis in Oslo — a case he discovers has roots in the Siege of Leningrad of World War II.
“Oh, yes, they’re still angry. At Third World aid, cuts in the defence budget, women priests, marriages for homosexuals, our new countrymen, all the things you would guess would upset these old boys. In their hearts they’re still fascists.”
This was the end of my relationship with Mr. Harry Hole. I just could not continue to watch this alcoholic policeman stumble his way into promotions and special assignments based on, in most cases, his superiors saving face. Apparently one of Nesbø’s goals with these books was revealing this sort of corruption in the government, which is a noble goal. But it makes it really hard to root for such a main character.