The Scandinavian Noir Grows Up
It has always seemed that following a police procedural series is like going to a warm, slightly airless bar where there are always stale snacks on the counter and you know the names of both the bartenders and whatever’s on tap. It may not be the world-famous Cheers, “where everybody knows your name,” but at the very least everybody knows everyone else’s name, and you can occupy your same barstool as a silent and faithful observer. This state of affairs does not take hold when reading two recent releases in Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole detective series, however.
Cockroaches, a thriller set mostly in Bangkok and surrounding areas, is the second in the ten-thriller series starring police detective Harry Hole. The last of Hole’s early thrillers to be translated from the Norwegian and made available to an English-speaking market, it takes the reader back to a Harry struggling in earlier stages of his alcoholism while adjusting to the time warp and dislocation of investigating the murder of the Norwegian Ambassador in Bangkok. Hole has an Augean Stables to clean up, as the ambassador has been discovered in a shady hotel room with pictures of child pornography strewn about.
As in the first Hole book, The Bat, Harry is an itinerant, a world wanderer who solves crimes abroad while focusing in his spare time on hidden demons such as alcohol and the lost loves that might have given him stability he desperately lacks. His character is clever, patient, and methodical as always, but less tempered by life and less personally interesting as a character. That being said, those who relish shady business dealings and complicated economics underpinning their whodunnits will particularly enjoy this thriller, which intelligently investigates corruption in one of the least transparent countries in the world, Thailand, and its transportation industry. Also, readers who peruse John Burdett’s hallucinatory series of thrillers including Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts, which star half-Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, may appreciate reading Nesbø’s colorful take on the Thai police novel.
Police, Nesbø’s latest entry in the sweepstakes for best Harry Hole novel, has the usual “gang at Cheers” that we have come to know and expect: Katrine Bratt, the very attractive, unstable detective from Norway’s second city, Bergen; Beate Lønn, head of Krimteknisk and one of the few women in the world able to remember every face she sees; Bjørn Holm, the Rasta-cap-wearing redhead with mutton-chop sideburns and a penchant for Merle Haggard and Hank Williams; Mikael Bellman, the ambitious young Police Chief and his sidekick goon, Truls Berntsen; and last and most important, Rakel Fauke, Harry’s long-term love, and her teenage son Oleg, Harry’s ersatz child. These characters take their place in a more seasoned drama than Cockroaches, however, as Harry has gone through many intermediary trials that have informed his vision and helped him understand what he now seeks in his life.
As is evident from the title, this entry in the Harry Hole series focuses on the police itself. Someone is killing specific members of the police on the anniversaries of crimes and at the very crime scenes they once haunted looking for clues. The former murders focused on young girls and remained unsolved. With the police getting nowhere in solving the investigation, some of Harry’s old cohorts form a small working group to take a fresh look at the old crimes and puzzle together answers regarding the new police murders outside of a large bureaucratic groupthink atmosphere. Hole, while still lecturing at the Police College, is no longer a police officer, and has a dreadful decision to make when they implore him to take part. He must determine whether to follow all his instincts and impulses in trying to solve a dangerous and difficult case, or eschew any involvement in the hopes of keeping the loves of his life, Rakel and Oleg, out of the fray for once and away from the danger that always seems to surround him.
The unusually staggered release of these two novels are illustrative in presenting Harry Hole as the main character in very different stages of development: he is first a thirty-something at loose ends, looking for satisfaction in work and dreaming of something more; and second, a more mature individual who has found romantic and family love while seeking a way to balance it with his life’s calling.
Written by: Miriam R. Kramer