Popular hero is perfectly flawed

JILLIAN ALLISON-AITKEN
Last updated 15:10 07/02/2014

BOOK REVIEWS: Cockroaches and Police
Both by Jo Nesbo (Harvill Secker, RRP $37 each)

These latest releases to the New Zealand market from Norwegian musician, economist and author Jo Nesbo are out-of-order Harry Hole novels but what a treat to get two of them in quick succession.

Cockroaches is actually one of the earlier Harry Hole novels that has finally been translated for his English-speaking fans.

This time around, the troubled detective has been sent to Bangkok after the Norwegian ambassador is found dead in a motel room.

Detective Hole has been sent there to keep a lid on any potential scandal because of the ambassador's close ties to the Norwegian Prime Minister. However, is quickly becomes obvious that there is a whole lot more going on than the initial investigation shows.

The perfectly flawed lead character finds himself caught up in a case much bigger than originally thought, at times out of his depth and often drunk. And it is those flaws that make the character of Detective Hole so popular: he isn't your stereotypical square-jawed hero, with a finely-tuned moral code and always ready to do the right thing.

Instead, as is common in so many of these fantastic Nordic crime thrillers (think Stieg Larssen, Henning Mankell and the like), the main characters are gritty, nowhere near perfect, but incredibly interesting.

Even though this is an earlier Harry Hole novel, it still flows on quite well from any of the others. However, it is a little odd that they have been translated well and truly out of order: all the later novels were translated first, but the very first novel - The Bat - was only done last year, followed by this second in the series. For the crimes featured in each book, reading them out of order probably won't affect your enjoyment of them. However, there are some storylines that flow from one book to the next and that might make things a little disjointed.

Even though Police was released back in September, it is actually the latest of the Harry Hole novels, following on from Phantom, which ended with a cliffhanger that was right up there with the whole "who shot JR" buzz: Harry was shot by his surrogate son. So was he alive or dead?

That was the mystery facing Nesbo's fans as they waited to see what would happen next. What we got was an earlier Harry Hole released for the English-speaking market and no hint of whether or not our favourite drunk cop would be back in a new book.

Then the online rumours started and even though we knew he had been shot in the head three times and was unlikely to survive, we still held out hope.

And it was worth the wait. Even though more peripheral characters from earlier books take a bigger role, Harry Hole's character is still the backbone of the story.

Police officers are turning up dead at former crime scenes and it quickly becomes apparent that someone is targeting the law.

This one isn't as fast-paced as many of Nesbo's earlier novels but it builds slowly and steadily to a conclusion that is every bit as shocking as his other books, just without all the fireworks.

It's a bit of a change of pace but handled really well.

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