Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø: A review

Cockroaches: The Second Inspector Harry Hole Novel (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original)Cockroaches: The Second Inspector Harry Hole Novel by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It seems that Harry Hole has become the go-to guy when Norwegian authorities need to send someone abroad in connection with a criminal investigation. That strategy turned out well when Harry was sent to Australia to help track down the killer of a Norwegian citizen there in The Bat.

Now, another Norwegian has been killed abroad, this time in Thailand, but it's not just any Norwegian. It is Norway's ambassador to Thailand. There may be political implications to this killing and the authorities are anxious that the whole thing be handled discretely. In other words, they want it hushed up. But is Harry really a likely candidate to accomplish that?  The powers that be seem to think so and soon he is winging his way to Bangkok.

The ambassador had been found in a hotel room that was an extension of a local brothel, with a ceremonial knife sticking out of his back. The implication is that he was waiting for a prostitute when he was killed. Harry finds anomalies that make him question that analysis and he soon comes to the conclusion that this was no random murder. He uncovers a nasty web of corruption and sexual perversion that he soon is persuaded to believe was actually behind the killing of the ambassador. Will he do what the authorities want and hush the whole thing up? That doesn't seem to be Harry's style.

The most interesting parts of this book for me were the descriptions of Bangkok, the structure of its police department, and of the various people, both Thai and foreigner, with whom Harry interacts during the course of his investigation. I have never been to Thailand, so I really have no way of judging if these descriptions were accurate, but they had the feel of realism to them.

Nesbø describes Bangkok as a very busy place, a city that never sleeps and that has round-the-clock traffic noise. Harry spends a lot of time visiting the underbelly areas of the city - go-go bars, opium dens, tourist traps - and he learns that the streets of this city, like most busy cities in the world, can be a dangerous place. What he must sort out is whether something about those streets caused or contributed to the death of the ambassador, and he will do that even though no one in authority seems to want it.

This was the second in Nesbø's Harry Hole series, but it was only recently translated into English. The third and later novels were translated before the first and second in the series. I don't know why that choice was made, but perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the third and later novels are stronger than the first two.

This one in particular I thought was rather weak. It did not do much to flesh out the character of Harry and the ending left some stray ends that didn't get tied up, and, in general, I just found the ending unsatisfactory. If I had read the first two novels before reading the others, I might not have been tempted to pick up The Redbreast and all the later books in the series, so even though I am usually a stickler for reading series books in order, in this case, it's probably a good thing that I didn't.

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2 comments:

  1. Very quirky as usual - great read for lovers of Jo Nesbo! All Jo Nesbo books twist & turn but come back to excellent conclusions.

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    1. True. His plots do take a long and winding road to reach their destination, but they generally do come to a satisfying conclusion. His later books get even better at that than this book.

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