Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

As you can see, I wasted no time returning to Harry Hole, the messed up Norwegian detective with demons aplenty. After his professionally successful but personally disastrous case in Sydney, Australia, Harry is shipped off to Bangkok in Thailand to solve yet another expat murder case.

This case involves all the seediest aspects of Thailand – sex trafficking, prostitution, blackmail, embassy officials using their diplomatic statuses to get involved in all manner of evil deeds.
This time, Harry is in not much better shape than those he is hunting. He wanders through the go go bars, the massage parlors and the beach communities of Thailand following leads from several different angles.

There is more than just an ex-pat murder in this case though. There are political and business implications that climb into the highest levels of the Norwegian government and Harry is being used as a convenient pawn. But Harry never plays the game according to others rules so there are always a lot of twists in what happens.

This book is also going to take Harry to a very dark place that appears to continue to the next book as he gets wound up in spending time in the opium dens of Bangkok. This is what I love about Harry – he is a disaster.

I know one of the later books is being made into a movie but I think to really appreciate Harry Hole, you need to start at the beginning and participate in his evolution or devolution as the case may be.
I have not been disappointed by this series yet. Oh and the cockroaches? Well, for every one you see, there are hundreds or thousands behind the walls that you don’t…..

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The Bat by Jo Nesbo

Another series? Ermagod! But, I went ahead and dove in and I was not disappointed. I trusted the recommendation on the author because it came from a friend and fellow reader who has never steered me wrong yet. This time, I decided to start at Book #1 and read them in order.

The main character is Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh), a Norwegian detective who has had been through some professional and personal hard times as all the best fictional detectives seem to have in common.

He has been sent to Sydney, Australia to assist in solving the murder of a Norwegian girl who was on a tourist visa. The first thing I loved about the book was that I lived in Sydney for several years. Ironically, the murdered girl’s flat was located in Hereford Street, Glebe which was actually one street away from where I lived. So I had the vicarious thrill of knowing the neighborhood intimately.

The next vicarious thrill was that the murdered girl, who was straight, worked as a bartender at the largest gay men’s piano bar in Sydney, The Albury. Now, my friends and I started many an evening of clubbing at the Albury. I had many friends who were bartenders, drag performers, singers in the piano bar. I went to many an after-memorial night there to celebrate fallen friends. I had many gay Mardis Gras nights there and Oxford Street was somewhere I spent many wonderful times.

Alas, The Albury is gone. As the community changes, morphs and assimilates, we have lost wonderful places. But I love that it lives on in this book. Harry is housed in Kings Cross which is the red light district of Sydney. I have millions of stories about Kings Cross too – all good. The Bourbon and Beef is somewhere many late nights and early mornings have ended.

A secondary location is the rain forests in northern New South Wales. Most particularly, Nimbin, which is a hippie town trapped in time. I spent time on a commune in that area so again, wonderful memories and to have so many rolled into one book sold me on the series right there.

In a wonderful stroke of serendipity, the story itself is very, very good. The mystery is complex; the characters are very rich and some of the clues dropped on Harry are done wrapped in aboriginal Dreamtime Stories shared by several aboriginal characters that populate the novel.

I am a convert. Harry is a wonderful character and there are plenty of books out there to get into before you have to wait for the next novel in the series. I love to find an author I can get stuck into and this is one for fans of a good mystery and a traveling Norwegian detective with issues.

The Spy: A Novel by Paulo Coelho

I have enjoyed every Coelho book I have read so I was excited when my friend let me have her copy of “The Spy”. In short, it is a fictionalized historical novel about the life of Mata Hari told from her point of view in letters to her attorney.

The research into her life is sound so it’s a brief but fascinating glimpse into a woman who was misunderstood. Mata Hari started life in Holland as a simple country girl looking for a way out.
She married a naval officer and headed off to Java in Indonesia in what was then called the Dutch East Indies. Although she was an officer’s wife and mother, she was also bored and unhappy. She learned a variety of dances and trotted off to Europe to reinvent herself.

Renaming herself Mata Hari, she became a Parisian cabaret dance sensation and sex symbol. She used her feminine wiles to book gigs and amass finery in the form of clothing and jewels. She paraded around on the arms of wealthy and important men.

With the advent of war and the expulsion of foreigners, she ended up back in Amsterdam with her star on the wane; she approached the French and the German embassy officials attempting to secure a visa in order to get back to Paris, either directly or via the Berlin cabaret scene.

According to her own version of events, she was misunderstood and scapegoated by both sides. Portrayed as a spy, a double agent or a traitor depending on which official was telling the story, she was jailed, tried, found guilty and executed.

While by no means the definitive story of Mata Hari, it is an easy, well written introduction to a fascinating woman. I love the style of Coelho’s writing – it reminds me at times of a modern day Hemingway. It is extremely difficult to write short, crisp sentences that convey a great deal of information without a lot of adjective or adverb filler. Coelho does this well and it is all the more impressive because the original language he writes in is Portuguese.

A nice little fictional novel about Mata Hari from a very good writer. No more, no less.