Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø

by Kristopher Cook
Time to Read: 3 minutes

Cockroaches is a gritty crime-thriller, following Detective Harry Hole to Bangkok after the Norwegian Ambassador, situated there has been murdered.

Thailand and its streets feel vibrant and alive. The writing is a step up from the previous book, The Bat. Nesbø appears to have refined his craft, learning from past experiences.

In the beginning, we’re introduced to the fact that Harry’s younger sister was once raped. As she has Down syndrome, the case was never taken seriously by the prosecution, and nobody was ever convicted.

Harry, who keeps his sister close, especially after the death of their mother, is haunted by the notion of the suspect walking around, being allowed to commit further atrocities.

A cliché in disguise

Detective Harry Hole is starting to develop into a great character. Sure he goes along with a few clichés; tired alcoholic cop, loner, deceased loved one (girlfriend).

However, from what I’ve read elsewhere, there aren’t too many main characters who’re detectives that don’t have a dramatic story and at least one serious character flaw. Often, it’s these flaws that make them credible in the first place.

Also, when a book is well-written and fun, looking past these clichés is much easier.

‘Do you know why gambling is an illness and not a profession, Harry? It’s because the gambler loves risk. He lives and breathes for that quivering uncertainty.’

JO NESBØ, CHAPTER 35

So yes, Harry Hole is a credible main character. Despite his flaws, he’s also a somewhat likeable person, in a removed sort of way.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I’d want to work with him; not with his excessive drinking and terrible time-keeping skills. He can be a liability at the best of times.

Working Abroad

In contrast to these problems, Hole delves into the crime-scene and internalises the steps that led to that point. These skills are often why his superiors, notably Bjarne Møller, can look beyond his general incompetence.

Although Harry’s been sent to Thailand because no one else will have him, Møller does want him to return in better shape than before and is hoping he can stay sober long enough to get his life back together.

These are the dynamics that add necessary depth to the story and its characters’ relationships.

Crumley was broad-shouldered and almost as tall as Harry; the hairless skull had pronounced jaw muscles and two intensely blue eyes above a thin, straight mouth. The uniform was a pale blue shirt, a large pair of Nike trainers and a skirt.

Jo Nesbø, Chapter 5

Despite Harry being the main character, I immediately fell for Elizabeth Crumley. She’s working for the Thai police and escorts Harry around the city, filling him in on key information regarding the murder.

Crumley is an American officer who learnt Thai upon entering the country. Her no-nonsense style, physical strength, and intelligence make her an excellent counterpoint to Harry’s lethargic ways.

Several parts stick out as being entertaining if that’s the correct word? Like when Harry is handcuffed to the bottom of the pool and needs to find a way to breathe. Although the writing here is visceral and gut-wrenching, it does give for an amusing read.

Surrounding the mystery of the dead ambassador, with the shan knife sticking out of his back, is corrupt politicians, Thai gangs and a child prostitution ring. Quite a mix of criminals courting ties with a well-to-do official, don’t you think?

Closing Thoughts

In summary, Cockroaches is an improved addition to the Detective Hole series.

Where the first took us through the cold city of Oslo, this one turns to the sunny shores of Thailand, to entice the reader with Go-Go dancers, gangsters and dead ambassadors.

There’s plenty of fun on offer. Sure, it’s not the most detailed of thrillers, for that I’d recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it knows what it is and it does it well.

An easy read that doesn’t take too much brain-power while still having enough suspense and twists to keep you on your toes.

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