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Bookends: The Detective as Stranger in a Strange Land January 31, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Detective as Stranger in a Strange Land

By Dan Davidson

October 26, 2016

– 833 words –

 the-bat

The Bat

By Jo Nesbø

Vintage Canada

384 pages

$19.95

E-book: $12.99

 

There are trends in publishing, and a breakout success by a particular author will often trigger a spate of interest in a particular kind of book. The massive popularly of J.K.
Rowling’s Harry Potter books resulted in a resurgence of interest in stories about young wizards. It was not a new genre. It had been done before, notably by Ursula K, Leguin in A Wizard of Earthsea, and its sequels, but that was a generation ago and trends often need to be rediscovered.

Dystopian futures featuring young people are not new. I used to teach John Wyndham’s lovely book, The Chrysalids in high school (partly because it was set in the North, in Labrador), and it went over well with my classes. John Christopher did a lot of this kind of work, especially in his Tripods YA series. So Suzanne Collins wasn’t really breaking new ground when she wrote The Hunger Games trilogy, but her success inspired library shelves full of new YA dystopian trilogies

Sometimes, older books will be rediscovered by this sort of process. Stieg Larsson’s “Girl Who…” trilogy (and its ghost written sequels) inspired a revived interest in Scandinavian mystery books. The last time I can recall this happening was with the work of Janwillem van de Wetering, whose Grijpstra and de Gier novels, set in Holland, were popular for about 25 years after the first one came out in 1975, an inspired an interest in other writers, including Henning Mankell, who work from Sweden overlapped van de Wetering’s later novels.

Larsson’s books began appearing in Swedish in 2005 and first came out in English translation in 2008. Nesbø’s Harry Hole series had begun in Norway in 1997 and translations I English began appearing in 2005. For some confusing reason the English versions don’t start at the beginning, with the book I’
reviewing this week, Flaggermusmannen, or The Bat (see, I’m finally getting to it) but with the fifth book in the series, The Devil’s Star. At least five other books, in no particular sequence, were translated before they got around to this one.

My theory is that the others are set in Norway, and this one isn’t, so the publisher wanted to establish the character in his normal setting of Oslo. For reasons known only to himself, Nesbø decided that Harry Hole would be introduced to the world with a case that took him way out of his comfort zone and dropped him down in Australia.

Not that the book doesn’t work, or wasn’t apprecia
ed when it appeared. It picked up the most prestigious crime writing award in Norway, The Riverton Prize (Rivertonprisen) 1997 for Best Norwegian Crime Novel of the Year, as well as the premier crime writing award in Scandinavia, The Glass Key (Glasnyckeln) 1998 for Best Nordic Crime Novel of the Year.

But these aren’t the Edgar, Agatha Christie, Macavity, Poirot, Shamus or Arthur Ellis awards, so they don’t mean as much to the English speaking mind.

Inspector Harry Hole is a troubled man. He doesn’t seem it at first, but we eventually get enough backstory to l
arn why he struggles with alcoholism and just how the mess this case becomes could drive him back to it. He’s been sent to Sydney to observe the progress on a case involving the murder of a 23 year old Norwegian woman who had been a minor celebrity back home. The local brass want to make sure he does nothing but observe, and it’s easy to see from the opening pages just how that will work out.

He’s mentored (not in method but in local culture) by one of the lead detectives on the case, and he becomes close to one of the witnesses. Events and his temperament lead him deeper into the case and he eventually uncovers what has not be noticed until then, that this case has echoes in various parts of the country. There is a serial killer at work.

Up to that point, the killings have adhered to a particular pattern, but as the investigation advances, the killer starts working on the people around Harry, and the strain of that drives him back to the bottle for quite a while. While the third narrative viewpoint is exclusively trough Harry’s eyes, we seem to pull back from him while he is in the state. The author doesn’t pass judgment, but we feel really let down by Harry’s inability to pull hi
mself out of the bottle. If he was able to do it once, he should have been able to do it againI’m having mixed feelings about Harry’s character flaws. He’s an engaging character and the final resolution to the case, though telegraphed earlier in the book, is both gruesome and satisfying. I think I’d recommend finding out the publication order and reading them that way.

 

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