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Cockroaches: An Early Harry Hole Case Paperback – 2014
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With the publication of this second novel in the Harry Hole series, all 10 Hole novels are now available in the U.S. It’s disconcerting for fans to read the series out of order (we know what demons await the beleaguered Harry), but, that aside, this is a compelling, hard-edged thriller that can stand on its own. It wasn’t until the third novel, Redbreast (2007), that the series took on its classic Scandinavian noir feel; in the opener (The Bat, 2013), Hole was sent to Australia to solve a crime involving a Norwegian, and here he’s on the road again, this time to Thailand, where the Norwegian ambassador has been found dead in a Bangkok brothel. The plot is satisfyingly twisty, with Harry wandering through the city’s notorious red-light district in search of clues and tempted by the booze and drugs that will derail him throughout the series. But we also see both Harry’s almost Holmesian flair for deductive reasoning and the sensitivity that makes him vulnerable. Don’t look to the Scandinavians for read-alikes this time; rather, try John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep series, also set in Bangkok’s morally ambiguous demimonde. --Bill Ott --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
#1 INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER
“Surprisingly fresh, compelling and radiant with the joy of writing.”
—Helsingin Sanomat (Finland)
“Jo Nesbø has written a substantial and well-constructed crime novel with a true Nordic hero as main character…. The plot is so complicated that you have no chance at figuring out the murderer until the last page. Hang on to it with great pleasure—Jo Nesbø writes so well and incisively about the crowds in the streets, and about a socially blighted Bangkok.”
—ALT for damerne (Denmark)
“Last year’s debut novel The Bat wasn’t just a fluke. Nesbø continues with The Cockroaches, a true ex-pat mixture of the creepy and gruesome kind…. Look forward to a great read.”
—Verdens Gang (Norway)
“There’s a sense of grandeur and near-extravagance in Nesbo’s novel.”
“As [a] crime novel, The Cockroaches offers excitement to the very last straw. However, this is not the only reason it is a pleasure to read it: Jo Nesbø is a master of language, and offers vivid descriptions owing to thorough research.”
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Top Customer Reviews
Second the answer to: Is it worth going backwards through time to read this one?
Sent to Thailand in the hopes of being too drunk to solve a murder too sensitive to be solved, Harry indeed finds himself drunk, sweating, and out of his depth in Bangkok. The novel balances Harry's personal life, own demons and the murder mystery well. Focusing mostly on the action and intrigue (and some the most intense violence read by this reader for a while) with just enough contact with 'Sis' and Harry's father to tug at heart strings and drive Harry onward.
My only beef is that the epilogue is a little light - with so much carnage in this story one wants a little more loose end tying and (as far as I can recall) Redbreast does not confront these at all (aside from searing criticisms from various colleagues which is a common feature of Hole novels)
In short, while many may be worried that Cockroaches won't sit well with them after being further through the series, Harry's trip to Thailand has an almost episodic feel to it that prevents discombobulation from the timeline jumping. Also unlike some of the more dry Hole plots, Cockroaches mixes business with pleasure and mayhem in perfect balance.
In Cockroaches, Detective Harry Hole is chosen by the Norwegian Foreign Office to go to Thailand to investigate the murder of Norway’s ambassador to Thailand, who has been found in a brothel with an elaborate old knife in his back. Hole himself is a psychological mess, an alcoholic trying to stay sober, and he has no interest in going to Thailand, even for a short time, to investigate this murder. He suspects he has been chosen because they expect him to fail so the foreign office can close the case without having to reveal nasty and embarrassing details.
In Bangkok, Harry gets started on the case and quickly discovers that the ambassador was a practitioner of many perversions, including paedophilia and child pornography. The knife used to kill him belonged to the most powerful heroin dealer in history, who now finances most of the new hotels in Burma and manages the opium trade in the north of Thailand. In addition, the ambassador is addicted to gambling and is indebted to loan sharks. By the time the novel reaches page one hundred, a large number of characters and an equally large number of criminal enterprises and perversions have been mentioned as the investigation of the ambassador’s murder goes off in separate directions. Eventually, even currency trading and the bankruptcy of a major firm have their moments in the spotlight.
Additional grisly murders take place as the novel progresses, but they are presented primarily through talk and not through action scenes, leaving the novel with surprisingly little drama, lacking the kind of tension which has made the later Harry Hole novels so compelling. As more and more threads take Harry in different directions, the reader quickly becomes as frustrated as the detective, since real connections which would draw the reader into all the threads and create interest in all the characters are unclear. Mistaken identity, betrayals, and surprise revelations do create suspense, but part of that suspense lies in to trying to figure out how Harry Hole is going to make sense of this whole, complicated mess.
And it wasn’t too bad.
But it wasn’t great either.
The biggest downside to this book is that the plot is occasionally hard to follow. There’s a lot of jumping from hour to hour, day to day, location to location with very little transition effort between scenes and chapters. And because there are so many characters (most of them minor) and so many places (with Thai names), the sudden shifts can be rather jarring and difficult to keep track of. Now, one could say Nesbø doesn’t waste time, true, but when the actual murder mystery is as complicated as Nesbø’s are, struggling to follow the movements of the protagonist can be very irritating, especially when you reach key scenes in the book.
On the upside, as mentioned, the murder mystery itself is well plotted and well executed. All the red herrings are there. All the subtle foreshadowing and carefully hidden clues. Nesbø stuffs so many clues that are obvious in hindsight ONLY into his story that it’s pretty incredible the book isn’t full of plot holes. Obviously, Nesbø is an excellent plotter when it comes to the core of his stories. And really, that’s what makes this book satisfying in the end, despite its shortcomings structure-wise. The actual mystery is truly difficult to unravel ahead of time, and you always feel challenged throughout the book to try and figure out the answers before Harry does.
(And generally, you won’t. The twists and turns will still surprise you. By the time you hit the last page, you won’t be able to call the plot “predictable”, no matter what you thought a hundred pages back.)
Character-wise, too, I think Nesbø succeeds on many fronts. He brings in a large and diverse cast whose roles are all important in some way to the core story but who aren’t solely created for it. They have lives and backstories that are mentioned as necessary but don’t overwhelm the main story. Nesbø achieves a good balance with his characters — they all advance the plot without butting in too much or too often. And Harry, as the protagonist, is an interesting guy to follow — an interesting guy with MAJOR issues that always affect the plot in interesting ways.
I think Cockroaches is a definite improvement over The Bat, which I couldn’t bring myself to finish. Structurally, though, it still has a few issues and can be hard to follow at times. I look forward to see how much Nesbø improved between this book and The Redbreast, which fans of the series generally consider to be where the author hits his stride.
Overall, a decent read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
What I read I liked, it was very convoluted which is why I quit. I was unable to sit and read long pieces at a time which made following the linbe of...Read more