Books, Thoughts

Off The Shelf: The Bat (Harry Hole #1)

I mentioned before that I would be rereading the Harry Hole series this summer.  Now look, the sunny season is quickly getting away from us & I’m just now getting the first one up.  Whoops!  I’ve decided that I’ll follow the same format as my neglected Summer of Drew posts: a quick summary & TV Tropes-like categories.

Summary of The Bat (Originally titled Flaggermusmannen):

Our hero Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-Lah) arrives in Australia to investigate the death of Inger Holter, a minor Norwegian celebrity who has been found raped & murdered.  Aboriginal detective Andrew Kensington takes Harry on a tour through Sydney’s nightlife & petty crime world to find a killer who has targeted blonde, white women.  Robin Toowoomba, a protegé of Kensington, is unmasked but not before an awful denouement.

Title Track: Who or what is the Bat?  Kensington explains to Harry that the bat is the Aboriginal symbol of death, called Narahdarn.  This name is spellled similarly to Ngardagha, a homeless Aboriginal flight instructor that Harry befriends.  (Although Ngardagha makes it clear that he is from the Crow tribe.)  Unlike the other Harry Hole novels, the Bat does not refer directly to the killer nor is it used by him to identify himself.

The Modus Operandi: The victims are childless white women, preferably blonde.  Toowoomba’s motive is to “avenge his people” by sexually enacting Terra Nullis on them.  The novel explains that when Westerners took Australia from the indigenous people, the Westerners claimed that since the Aboriginals had not farmed or worked the land, they had no right to it.  Toowoomba’s logic is a queasy reversal on imperialism but also (in this Lit major’s reading) plays upon fears of the oversexed native man.

Bond Girl: Birgitta Enquest, a Swedish girl who had come to Australia with a beau & stayed when the relationship went bad.  She’s red-headed, Inger’s former best friend, and patient listener to all of Harry’s stories.  If you don’t count Kristin (explanation coming), Birgitta is the first of Harry’s “beautiful strong women” who suffer for their association with him.

Ghosts Past & Present: At 32 years old, Harry is already carrying around a lot of emotional baggage.  His mother has already died (which other novels will explore more deeply) but his two biggest regrets is his past girlfriend Kristin & his former partner Ronny Stiansen.  Stiansen was killed when Harry was driving their squad car drunk during a call.  (A civilian was also killed in the crash.)  Kristin, who Harry originally describes as “the girl I had been waiting for all of my life,” kills herself sometime after the crash that nearly ruins Harry’s career.  Kristin, who had once been passionate & vital, settled for a conventional life as a wife & mother which was unfulfilling & made her a little Hedda Gabler-ish.  By the time The Bat ends, Andrew, Toowoomba, Birgitta & Otto the gay circus clown have been added to the ranks.  Quote on pg. 56 from Harry, “You’re a tiny bit damaged every time you unravel another murder case.”

A Scar is a Tattoo with a Better Story: Harry breaks one of his front teeth in a bar fight.  I list this because as the series progresses, Harry’s physical appearance will take more & more of a beating.  Again, a quote on pg. 181 from Andrew, “The life you’ve lived is written all over you, for those who can read.”

Mr. Self-Destruct: Harry’s first relapse into alcoholism occurs two-thirds through the book; his drink of choice is a “Black Snake”–Jim Beam & Coke.  He goes on a binge which includes hiring a prostitute (& not using protection I might add), fighting with suspects, taking shelter with Ngardagha the homeless man, dreaming about those he’s wronged & generally fucking up until a casual word at the right moment inspires Harry’s intuition & gets him back on the case.  Other worm-in-the-rose moments include: Harry & Kristin’s first moments of love occurring on a bed coated in dead flies, Sandra’s admission to morphine use as the only drug strong enough to help her escape her hard life (which pops up again in the series), Harry’s memories of Kristin & the diving board at Frogner Park in Norway (which also pops up again in the series), Birgitta’s fatal offer of assistance to help catch the killer as an admission of her love for Harry, and the Head of Crime’s warning to Harry about policemen who are “blessed with a stupidity so great that we believe we can achieve something.”

Someone’s Been Sleeping In My Bed: Harry recognizes that Andrew is a fellow addict due to the state of his apartment.  Harry notes that the neatness of Kensington’s apartment mirrors his own domestic discipline after Harry stopped drinking.  Pg. 212, “[R]ightly or wrongly, he used the level of chaos in his flat as a thermometer for the state of the rest of his life.”

History Lessons: A brief history of Aboriginal rights & policy in Australia as of the late 90s is given, which is key to understanding Toowoomba’s motives.  Harry also holds forth on Norway’s own blithe attitude to its place in the developed world.

Epic References!: Like all Harry Hole novels, there are specific pop culture references.  The main one here is Nick Cave’s “Where the Wild Roses Grow.”  Harry sees a cabaret show where two performers act out the lyrics.  Later, Harry leaves a rose for Birgitta to inspire her as she tries to lure the suspected killer back to her place.  (She never sees it.)  At the end of the novel, Harry gets a rose tattoo to commemorate his love for the dead Birgitta.  There are a few fun throwaway insults for period swashbuckling flicks like Braveheart and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  (RH:PoT supposedly has a cast as bad as Plan 9.)  No a-ha insults. . . for now.

The Don’t-Miss-Social-Events: Sydney’s spectacular club scene: burlesque shows, gay clubs, & bars full of rough trade.  Also, the local boxing circuit, the circus.

Cool Story, Bro: So.  Many.  Stories.  Even Nesbø admits that while he was in Australia writing the draft, he included many of the indigenous stories he heard while visiting.  Other than the folktales, nearly every character shares a story about their life with Harry.  But only McCormack’s & Kensington’s hint at what lies in store for Harry.

Takeaway Philosophy: The human soul was a deep, dark forest and all decisions are made alone.  (pg. 374)