Book Review: The Bat (Harry Hole #1)

In the first installment of his best-selling Harry Hole mystery series, The Bat, Jo Nesbø introduces us to the hard-drinking and occasionally barely functional Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad. In this episode, Hole travels to Sydney to observe the investigation into the murder of a 23-year-old Norwegian, who also happens to be a minor celebrity back home.

The Bat by Jo Nesbø

The book cover for The Bat, shows a man walking through a sepia-toned fog towards a derelict building. Birds are circling in the sky above him.
The Bat (Harry Hole #1)
By Jo Nesbø
Translated by Don Bartlett
Random House Canada, 2012

In the first installment of his best-selling Harry Hole mystery series, Jo Nesbø introduces us to the hard-drinking and occasionally barely functional Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad. In this episode, Hole is sent to Sydney to observe the investigation into the murder of a twenty-three year old Norwegian, who also happens to be mildly famous back home.

When the murder turns out to be the work of a serial killer working his way across the country, Hole disregards his instructions to stay out of trouble and puts himself squarely in the center of the case.

What I thought about The Bat

Most of the time, I like to read mystery series in order the author wrote them. After all, a lot of character development happens in those types of series and I enjoy walking with the characters as they change. Reading the later books in a series before the earlier ones can also create all kinds of spoilers that ruin my enjoyment of those earlier books whenever it is that I finally get around to reading them.

But in this case, I read a different Harry Hole mystery first. At the same time I learned this series even existed, I also learned that the first book in the series was one of the weakest books, and that I’d be much better off starting with a later book.

People seemed to be crazy about Jo Nesbø, though, and I really wanted to know why. So I started with The Redbreast (Harry Hole, #3) first.

And I’m glad I did.

By reading a few other Harry Hole mysteries first, I became invested in Hole’s character in a way I wouldn’t have done if I’d started with The Bat.  Hole is frankly unlikeable in this book. So unlikeable that I think if I’d encountered this version of Harry Hole first, I’d have stopped reading halfway through. But since I began The Bat already invested in Hole’s character and versed in his strengths and weaknesses, I was much more interested in seeing how they played out in this story, so kept reading. Instead of making me drop the book in frustration and anger, this version of Hole simply made me supremely sad.  

My recommendation?

If you are also intrigued by the Harry Hole mystery series, start with one from somewhere in the middle of the series. Try The Redbreast (#3), The Devil’s Star (#5), or The Leopard (#8) first. If you like Nesbø’s style, then pick up The Bat. You will have more patience with Hole and a deeper appreciation for how Nesbø is able to portray this utterly impossible and complex man consistently from book to book.  

Who might enjoy reading Jo Nesbø

  • People looking for mysteries with a Norwegian lead, dysfunctional detectives, and/or thrillers with plots that don’t quit.

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