Norway’s ambassador to Thailand is found lying dead with a knife in his back in a Bangkok brothel. To ensure that the investigation is fumbled and the episode covered up, the politicians who govern the Norwegian police arrange to dispatch an alcoholic detective to take charge of the case, fully expecting that he’ll rush to one of Bangkok’s thousands of bars and drink himself into oblivion for the duration of his stay.
Surprise! The detective, Harry Hole, arrives in Bangkok and immediately goes on the wagon. And, to Harry’s surprise, the Thai detectives in the homicide unit turn out to be honest and highly competent, defying every preconception about corruption and incompetence in the force.
Cockroaches (Harry Hole #2) by Jo Nesbø @@@@ (4 out of 5)
As Harry digs into the case, he soon unearths unsavory evidence of child pornography and pedophilia in Thailand’s small Norwegian community — and the late ambassador appears to have been involved. As the investigation unfolds, the truth behind the ambassador’s murder becomes ever more elusive. Questionable new figures enter the scene, suspects multiply, and Harry soon finds himself on the wrong side of a local crime boss and his brutal enforcer. One week stretches to two and more, as the powers that be in the embassy and in Oslo become increasingly impatient. The suspense builds to a violent crescendo and yet one more big surprise, bringing to a close another excellent Harry Hole tale.
Cockroaches struck me as a big step up from Jo Nesbo‘s first outing in the Harry Hole series, The Bat. While this second book is better, Nesbo doesn’t hit the peak of his skill until later volumes such as The Redbreast, Nemesis, and The Leopard, all of which I found to be brilliant. (Only The Redeemer didn’t seem quite up to their level.)
However, Cockroaches doesn’t rise to the level of Nesbo’s best, in part because his portrayal of Bangkok (other than its heat and its nonstop traffic jams) is less than compelling. Another writer, John Burdett, has done a superb job of rendering not just the oppressive heat and world-class traffic snarbles but also the sex trade, the mysticism and superstition of the people, and the corruption of officialdom of Bangkok. Burdett’s showcase is his cycle featuring the half-Thai, half-American detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep. I’ve read all the books in the series and reviewed two (Vulture Peak and The Godfather of Kathmandu). I highly recommend them, too.
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