This is the book that introduced Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad--or it least it would have been had not several of the later Harry Hole novels reached the U.S. ahead of it. The wait is finally over, though, and The Bat is now at last available in a U.S. edition.
It seems a bit odd that the first book in a series featuring a Norwegian police inspector would be set in Australia. Nonetheless, that's the case. A young Norwegian woman who had been something of a minor television celebrity back home, has been raped and murdered in Sydney. Harry is sent to Australia to act as a liasion with the Sydney police in the investigation. His instructions are clear: he is to be an observer and he is not to actually meddle in the investigation. The Sydney police clearly expect that Harry will spend most of his time seeing the sights and will be content to go home and report after a few days at most.
Even if you've never read another Harry Hole novel, if you've read any crime fiction at all, you know that's never going to happen. From practically the moment he arrives in Australia, Harry develops his own ideas about the case and is anything but shy about pursuing them.
The principal merit of this book is that the reader gets to meet a younger Harry Hole and to learn a bit more about his background. The case itself is intriguing and Harry meets a number of interesting characters along the way. If there is a problem with the book it rests with the fact that Nesbo spends quite a bit of time as a tour guide and cultural anthropologist, exploring the land, its mysteries and its peoples, and sometimes the travelogue gets in the way of the story itself.
Actually, The Bat seems more like one of those books that you would find much later in a series, at a time when the author has begun to run out of ideas and so sends his character off to an exotic land to mix things up a bit--and, not incidentally, to give the author a great vacation that he can deduct as a business expense.
Still, though it's not up to the standards of some of Nesbo's later Harry Hole novels, this is a fun story with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. And for those of us who are compulsive completists when it comes to our crime fiction, it gives us the chance to finally start reading this series in order. The problem remaining is that the second book in the series, The Cockroaches will not be released in the U.S. until December. At that point, all of the Harry Hole novels will finally be available here and all will be right with the world.