If like most of us you begin reading Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole stories with The Redbreast (the first to be translated into English from the original Norwegian) you will have an uneasy sense you have missed something.
There are earlier episodes in the eccentric police detective’s career that are tantalisingly referred to but not explained. There are hints of scandal (only too likely) but also of investigative triumph (also likely) that has saved his career. Even more tantalising, these episodes occurred in Sydney of all unlikely places to find an Oslo homicide detective. It appears there were two Harry Hole stories published in Norwegian prior to The Redbreast and in the very first his superiors send Harry to Australia to ‘observe’ the investigation of the murder of a Norwegian girl in Sydney.
The Bat has now been translated into English 15 years after it first appeared. Harry surrounded by the blinding Sydney sunshine instead of the sombre tones of Nesbo’s Oslo takes a bit of getting used to. He has been ‘dry’ for some time but falls off the wagon under the stress of an increasingly traumatic investigation of what Harry discovers is a serial killer at work. Harry has a wonderful time with an Aboriginal police detective who is one of Nesbo’s more memorable characters, discovering aspects of Sydney (especially nocturnal King’s Cross) and former hippie capital Nimbin, the NSW Tourist Board would rather he had not ‘observed’. He falls in love with a Swedish-Australian; he gets to know more than he might have wished about Australia’s travelling boxing shows; and the last we see of him he has just jumped into space to experience sky-diving! This is not classic Harry Hole, but it is the first, and I found the description of Sydney immensely entertaining. However, I must confess a prejudice: I spent the first five years of my new Australian life in Sydney. ‘Great was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young was very Heaven!’
The Bat / Jo Nesbo / Harvill Secker