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 .
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
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
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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