Book review: Cockroaches, by Jo Nesbo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 4:56pm

by Jo Nesbo
Harvill Secker
4 stars

Guy Haydon

Finally. English-language fans of the 10 Norwegian thrillers featuring insubordinate detective Harry Hole can now read translations of all of the books by Jo Nesbo.

Nesbo's novels, featuring nail-biting tension, shock twists and turns, and brutal, bloody killings - often carried out by his relentlessly violent, recovering alcoholic protagonist as he metes out his own form of justice - have been hugely successful around the world.

Yet his English publishers' curious decision to begin the translations partway through a series that started in 1997 means that only now do we get the chance to read Cockroaches, the second book in the series, which first appeared in 1998.

Norway's ambassador to Thailand has been found murdered in a cheap Bangkok brothel with an exotic knife stuck in his back. Local police have found no suspects and precious few clues.

So Hole, regarded as a celebrity crime-fighter in Oslo after hunting down a serial killer, is asked by the Norwegian government to solve the crime, but - more importantly - avoid any embarrassing revelations from being made public.

Soon after his arrival, he begins to suspect things are not what they seem, with people hiding secrets that could help him crack the case. Determined to catch the culprits while battling nightmares and the temptation to drink, it isn't long before Hole's heavy-handed approach has upset local thugs and put his life in danger.

"The massive body moved with astonishing speed. Harry caught the acrid smell of curry, and before he could lift an arm he was swept off the ground and clasped like a teddy bear. Harry tried to wriggle loose, but the iron grip tightened every time he released air from his lungs … Everything went black … and the sound of traffic became louder. Then he could see a greyish-white sky … the balcony, then the roof of the tuk tuk [taxi] which had been left with a nasty sag."

Moving Hole far from the atmospheric setting of Norway - with its long, seemingly carefree summer days and dark, ice-cold, ominous winter nights - does not detract from this convincing, nicely plotted tale, or stop the chills and thrills (nor the blood-letting).

Nesbo's crisp storytelling will shock - and keep you guessing - right up to the end. Yet what the future holds for Hole and his fans is unclear. Nesbo's next thriller, Blood on the Snow, due in October 2014, has attracted Hollywood's interest: actor Leonardo DiCaprio is said to be keen to produce and star in a film version. The novel focuses on a hitman who falls in love with the woman he's hired to kill - with Hole nowhere to be seen.