Review: Cockroaches – Jo Nesbø

Cockroaches - Jo Nesbo

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s got to be said at the start that I have no idea why it’s called Cockroaches. What the significance might be, passed me by. I kept trying to think of something under way, but it wouldn’t come.

Anyway, it was more enjoyable – for me – than the first one (The Bat), though it is still tricky to see why Jo Nesbø, apart from him being Norwegian, has decided to write about a Norwegian detective. There’s nothing here that needs the ‘hero’ to be Norwegian (the fact that it is a Norwegian person’s death, in Thailand, that sparks it all off and therefore, for reasons I’ve either forgotten, or weren’t made clear, or were too dull, requires a Norwegian detective being sent out there, aren’t the strongest). There isn’t any particular nuance that only a Norwegian could bring to the investigation, no particularly Norwegian world-view that provides the key to unlocking the case, no 57 words for snow…or any of that. My idea for why it’s a Norwegian detective sent out first to Australia, then Thailand, are all to do with the publisher’s desire to have an international success with a Norwegian author, than – as stated above – writing a series of books exploring the uniquely Norwegian way of looking at crimes. Even what made him reasonably different last time out, being an alcoholic, isn’t brought out much here. He struggles a few times, but – thankfully for my enjoyment as I thought the alcoholic detective angle  has been done to death before, was intensely dull and didn’t add anything to The Bat – it doesn’t cause him any more trouble than a headache or two.

I also tried my best to think of why he’s set it in Bangkok. And here’s my best punt at it: Scandinavians love Thailand. No idea why. But they do, trust me, I live in Denmark and they all say they ‘dream’ of going there, if they haven’t yet. And all the ugly, social misfit blokes go there and come back with wives. I’ve seen them, here, in the airport last weekend, everywhere. I’m guessing Norwegians are the same. So the publisher said “to get sales here off the ground, so we can put ’The New Stig Larsson’ on the cover, we need to sell a few copies here – set it in Thailand!” Ker-Ching! Then the subsequent ones are set in Norway, sales are set fair in Norway and people outside of Norway, who’ve heard of Stig Larsson, pick up his books thinking he’s the new one.

So, Norway’s ambassador to Thailand is found dead in a Bangkok brothel with a knife in his back. Murder is suspected, as it would be, dead in a brothel, knife in back. They shine the Norway sign on a cloud and whaddaya know, but Harry Hole duly is the only one they can spare to send out there. You’re gonna read that and read ‘Hole’ as ‘…in the ground,’ no amount of Holé, as it was in the first one, or ‘Holler’ as they try here, is gonna change that. There’s some interesting pieces about adjusting to the climate and the Thai way of ‘doing things’ and then investigation follows the lines of the first one. Lots of clues, maybe clues and not clues. Getting no where. Nearly time to go back. Breakthrough. There are some nice turns of phrase here and there, though it is of course in translation. Though you never know how much has been lost, or gained, in translation. And I’ve not read it in Norwegian. I probably could do. I read and speak Danish and Norwegian is largely the same, just with different in pronunciation. Trust me on that.

My problem here was that the final explanation for whodunnit and why, was so unnecessarily convoluted, turning as it did on the ins and outs of high finance, that I kind of glazed over. I was scratting around trying to find something for my mind to catch hold of and never really did. The fact is, I’d say that JN knows it and knows you won’t have figured out the why, even if you have at least figured out the who, because Harry H has to spend several pages explaining it to us…erm, I mean explaining it to the Thai police chief. Always both bad sign and a sign of a writer unsure if his reader can be trusted with going along with it all. Though, the angle I thought it would take, it didn’t, so I’ve got to give it marks for surprising me. But how much, I don’t really know, as I couldn’t tell you now who the perpetrator was. Never mind.

It does then all end a bit meh. It could have done without the free association and the talking about something completely different. Then the epilogue – 2 ‘chapters‘ of it – is pointless. All it does do is take the edge off me thinking this was much better than the first I really must get hold of number three. Now I’m not so sure. More substance, less style required next time out.

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