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The Bat: The First Harry Hole Thriller    by Jo Nesbo Amazon.com order for
Bat
by Jo NesbÝ
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2012 (2012)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

After reading the subsequent Harry Hole thrillers set mainly in Oslo, Norway, I was delighted to get my hands on the first episode in this superlative series. It takes Harry down under to Australia. And though I didn't find the mystery as brilliantly plotted as later episodes, I very much enjoyed Harry's observations of, and interactions with, Aussie life.

Readers find out why he's there when Harry arrives at Sydney's airport and responds to a joking query from the custom's agent, hoping that no Norwegian blondes had been murdered - 'Well, just the one,' is his reply. Inger Holter (a minor TV star back home) was raped, strangled, and dumped from a cliff. Harry has been sent to Australia to coordinate with the local investigation.

Harry is met at the airport by aboriginal Andrew Kensington, an Aussie police detective who calls him Mr. Holy. Andrew shows Harry the ropes and Sydney night life, and a friendship grows between them. Along the way, Harry gets involved with redheaded Birgitta Enquist (who knew the victim). Readers learn about the alcoholic back story that sent Harry down his destructive life path, and about Andrew's history as one of the Stolen Generation of aboriginals.

Harry and Andrew learn that Inger was involved with Evan White, a drug dealer operating in Nimbin, New South Wales. And the investigation turns up other pale blonde women who were raped and strangled - it seems they have a serial killer on their hands. Working with Andrew, Harry is exposed to a great deal of Aboriginal culture, including the fact that the titular bat 'is the Aboriginal symbol of death'.

As always in a Jo NesbÝ novel, the title is significant, the plot twisty and convoluted. There are additional deaths and more than one false conclusion before Harry does what he does best and digs out the truth - but not before a tragedy that adds one more to the dark burdens Harry carries through life. I am delighted to have finally had the chance to read this first Harry Hole novel, and hope the second will be released in North America soon!

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