REVIEW: COCKROACHES BY JO NESBO

COCKROACHES

Author: Jo Nesbo
Harvill Secker Fiction RRP $32.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

Cockroaches: An early Harry Hole case, Jo NesboI was first introduced to Jo Nesbo when the English translation of The Bat was released last year. I now have his latest novel Police on my to-read shelf, but I decided to tackle Cockroaches, the second in the Harry Hole series, first. Nesbo seems keen on adding an international flavour to his series (good marketing tactic?) by sending Hole to another overseas destination (the first was set in Sydney) – this time it’s Bangkok.

Following the shock murder of the Norwegian ambassador, Harry Hole is pulled from a bar and sent on a mission: find out who killed the ambassador and why. The Norwegian Government wants to keep the story out of the media for as long as possible, so Hole is instructed to work with Thai police and keep the story from becoming a scandal. What was the ambassador doing in a seedy motel room? Why doesn’t his wife seem particularly upset? As Hole starts asking questions, it becomes clear that the Ambassador’s family is hiding something, but can he get them to talk?

When the investigation uncovers a link to child sex abuse, things start heating up fast … and it’s already steamy in Bangkok, with monsoonal weather, sleazy sex clubs and plenty of temptation designed to take Hole off track. Not to mention an oversized Manchurian thug, a secretive Norwegian photographer, and the realisation that the Norwegian Government had their own agenda for choosing Hole to investigate … one they forgot to tell him about. It’s complicated.

The story is fast-paced and full of the expected twists and turns, some of which caught me by surprise. As a thriller, it’s a good read and while the plot is complicated, Hole does well enough in linking them all together. The subject matter – Thailand’s sex industry and specifically, child sex exploitation – makes for a dark, violent read that matches the depressed feel of the book overall. Lost in a fog of alcohol and horrific memories, Hole is not in a good place, yet somehow manages to stay on track, keep his senses sharp and solve the crime. The reaction of a fellow police officer as Hole ticked off the points that led to his conclusion mirrored mine … he doesn’t miss much.

The book can be read as a standalone, but I do think readers will miss out by doing that, or by reading out of order. A number of back story elements would be lost on those with no prior experience of Hole, such as his memories of a past lover who was brutally murdered in Sydney. I’m keen to watch Hole develop over the series – at the moment, he is clearly an intelligent but damaged man who doesn’t take well to authority and seems to attract trouble. I’m not sure that I see that changing, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House.

Bookish treat: Some spicy Thai food was a treat after finishing this book – Thai-style BBQ chicken and a crunchy, healthy salad.