Back to My Reading Comfort Zone


After the rather distressing but still lovely Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I knew I needed a break from heavy-duty literary fiction and get back into my comfort zone, which is serial killer thriller zone :D.

It might seem strange that reading about blood and gore and rape can comfort me, but in a strange way it is. I know the format almost by heart now, I know that the bad guys finally get their comeuppance. I know the linear storyline, and knowing what to expect is strangely comforting. All right, I can’t really explain my fondness for thrillers, it’s just something that’s me, and form the bulk of my reading experience.

So, last week, I read the first books in the following two crime series:

  • The Bat by Jo Nesbo (which is the first book in the Norwegian detective Harry Hole series)
  • Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs (which is the first book in the Temperance Brennan series)

None of these book series are particularly new. Both started out in the early 90s and have been going on fairly successfully since then. What these books are, though is the first in the series, and you all know, the best way to read a series is in the correct order ;).

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

Up first in my review comes The Bat. The protagonist is Harry Hole (pronounced Hoola), he is a recovering alcoholic sent from Norway as a token gesture to help the Australians investigate the murder of a Norwegian woman.

He is very clearly told to stay out of the way of the actual investigation.

What you’re gonna do is watch carefully while we haul the bastard in, tell the Norwegian press along the way what a wonderful job we’re doing together – making sure we don’t offend anyone at the Norwegian embassy, or relatives, – and otherwise enjoy a break and send a card or two to your dear Chief Constable

As if that’s going to happen! Very soon, it becomes clear that a serial killer is on the loose, and Harry and his partner go all out to find the culprit.

This is an interesting start to a series. It’s a bit odd that a Norwegian crime series starts off in Australia. We get to meet Hole for the first time when he’s out of his comfort zone, a stranger in a strange land so to speak. The first part of the book is almost like a travelogue where we are introduced to Sydney – the gay lifestyle, the beaches, and the traditional Aborigine culture and its struggle to thrive in a modern multi-cultural world.

In the midst of all these distractions, the investigation is on.

I’ve heard that later Jo Nesbo books are tightly plotted and pacey thrillers. However, this is not so. There are too many diversions and too much of tell rather than show. While I appreciate the insight into another country and culture, it was at the expense of the plot.

I also don’t like stories about bumbling police detectives helped out by the hotshot cop stories. While such stories may be acceptable in rural settings, it was a little hard to believe that the Sydney cops would be so dumb and so eager to accept Hole’s wild guesses (especially considering that he seems such a novice detective in the first place).

That said, I like the way Hole’s character arc was developed throughout the whole story, and I think the later books in the series will be a little more thrilling now that his character is established in this book. I know that in spite of this rather lukewarm start, I look forward to reading the later books.

The next book that I read is Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs. This is a thriller series similar in style to Patricia Cornwell’s famous Scarpetta series. I read one of the later books some time back in my pre-blogging days. I remember that it wasn’t very memorable and I dismissed the series. At the time, the Kay Scarpetta series was at it’s thrilling best and I didn’t really feel like reading something so similar but not nearly quite as good.

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

Well, times are different now and I quite liked this introductory book to the Temperance Brennan series very much.

Dr. Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist who has left a shaky marriage in North Carolina to work in Quebec. When an unidentified female corpse is discovered meticulously dismembered and stashed in garbage bags, Tempe detects an alarming pattern within the grisly handiwork and her professional detachment gives way to a harrowing search for a killer in the city’s winding streets.

With little help from the police, Tempe calls on her expertise, honed in the isolated intensity of the autopsy suite, to investigate on her own. But her determined chase is about to place those closest to her – her best friend and her daughter in mortal danger.

This is an excellent start to the series, and works far better than The Bat as an opening book. The focus is on the mystery and the character of Tempe. Quebec and the city of Montreal form an interesting but not intrusive backdrop to the series – just like how it should be in a good thriller.

Funnily, just like Harry, Tempe is a recovering alcie and throughout the book as the stresses increase she fights the urge to give in to drink. Her abrasive and combative relations with the police who don’t take her seriously enough is well conveyed without making the police seem like total nitwits (ok, sometimes they do act dumb, but then so does she).

The mystery is also interesting and well-set up, and the book moves along very nicely. Altogether a very satisfactory thriller and I look forward to reading more Tempe Brennan books in the future.

One thought: Both these books take place in the early to mid-nineties when cell phones and internet were not used much in crime procedural. It’s interesting how the cops managed to carry on their investigations without the aid of technology. So many times, I wondered why so and so didn’t just pick up the phone and call for support before realizing the time period.

It’s interesting to see how I take my access to information and the ability to get in touch with people while on the move so much for granted…

Anyway, ending this long and rambling review with thanks to Random House for sending me these books to read and review.

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  • I have to say that I quite enjoyed The Bat, and loved the way Nesbo built up Harry Hole’s character. The diversions into Aboriginal lore were also quite interesting, though it did mean that it wasn’t as fast paced as a thriller ought to be!

    • @Modern Gypsy: I love Harry Hole too, there’s great potential in his character. Just could have done with a little less on the Aboriginal commentary, or maybe have it done more skilfully, as more of a background? I was a little irritated by how in your face it was.

  • Aw! I wanted you to say glowing things about the Jo Nesbo book, since I too have heard wonderful things about his ability to put a plot together. It makes me sad that you didn’t find the plot superb.

    • @Jenny: I wanted to love this book too. I am really looking for the next Michael Connelly, but this is a very tentative start. I am counting on the later books being better.

  • It’s funny, but like you, crime is my comfort reading, too. I think, as you said, it’s the familiarity that I love. I also really like the resolution that typically accompanies these books. All is right in the world, at least in the book, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

    • @Jenn: Isn’t that funny? I do like a good romance or chick-lit, but crime fiction is really my comfort zone. It’s my literary chocolate fix 🙂

  • Thanks for the reviews. I’ve been looking to find a new crime series for a while (Michael Connelly seems to be on repeat lately and Robert Crais novels read so fast I’m always left wanting more). I’ve often wondered about the Kathy Reichs books, but I’ve found the Bones TV show a little boring. Her novels sound like they might be worth a look.

    • @MojoFiction: Thanks for visiting and commenting. Yes, the last couple of Harry Bosch books were a little bit tame, and Robert Crais was never my favorite. I have heard that later Kathy Reichs books are repetitive, but this was a very solid start to the series. I think the next 3-4 books at least should be of high quality.

  • I liked Deja Dead quite a bit too. As a Canadian the book held a lot of Quebec history and gave me the context I didn’t understand as I grew up in that time.

    • @hcfbutton: Thanks for visiting and commenting. Yes, she really seems to have captured the atmosphere and history in her book without deviating from the story. It was very well done!

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