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De kakkerlak by Jo Nesbo

De kakkerlak (original 1998; edition 2012)

by Jo Nesbo, Annelies De Vroom

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970458,908 (3.6)87
Title:De kakkerlak
Authors:Jo Nesbo
Other authors:Annelies De Vroom
Info:Amsterdam De Bezige Bij 2012

Work details

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo (1998)

  1. 00
    The Lotus Keeper by K. R. Dial (Cecilturtle)
    Cecilturtle: histoire situé en Thaïlande sur le thème de l'exploitation des enfants

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English (33)  Swedish (3)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (45)
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Like its predecessor, The Bat, this is listed as an early Harry Hole thriller and is set abroad, this time in Bangkok. Again, like its predecessor, this is weaker, particularly in terms of characterisation, than the later books. A good read nonetheless; but if this had been released first or second, I doubt if we would have picked up on Nesbo's works to the degree we have. ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |

[Cross-posted to Knite Writes]


Norwegian Inspector Harry Hole (pronounced “Hoo-leh”, I think), renown for his alcoholism, is sent by his bosses to Thailand to “investigate” the murder of a Norwegian ambassador. What they really want him to do is tie up the case quickly to avoid a scandal, since the ambassador had connections to the current Prime Minister.

Once Harry arrives, he quickly realizes that the case probably won’t clean up as well as his superiors want — and he, of course, isn’t the kind of guy to let a good mystery go. He finds out the ambassador was discovered dead in the room of a hotel (AKA brothel) and was originally discovered by a prostitute named Dim. But talking to the owner and the prostitute doesn’t get Harry anywhere, so he starts investigating the ambassador’s life.

The ambassador had a poor home life with a deteriorating marriage and a daughter with a disability — made even worse by the fact he was secretly gay. But Harry knows the wife and daughter didn’t have anything to do with the murder, so he moves on to the man’s various connections. Jens Brekke, a broker/banker, becomes the first suspect — due to his affair with the ambassador’s wife. But after he provides an alibi, the police let him go.

Harry also comes into contact with a man named Loken — who Harry at first suspects of wrongdoing. But it turns out Loken was investigating Ove Klipra — who also had a connection to the ambassador — a local magnate with his hands in a major road construction project, for pedophilia. With Loken’s help, Harry collects what he believes to be evidence of Klipra’s involvement in the ambassador’s murder, and Harry’s Thai police contacts start to move in on Klipra as the prime suspect.

But then the unthinkable happens — Runa, the ambassador’s daughter, is kidnapped, and Harry receives a note he believes to be from Klipra claiming Runa will live only if Harry leaves Thailand. Naturally, Harry doesn’t leave because he knows better — he, Loken, and Liz, his main Thai police contact, move in on Klipra’s secret hideout and storm the place. Only to find Runa and Klipra dead.

Devastated at his failure to save Runa, Harry almost loses himself in alcohol again, but when he checks out the scene at Klipra’s again the next morning, he realizes a few things are off. The bullet trajectories don’t seem right for a murder-suicide by Klipra. Some objects in the house are out of place. And when Harry checks out the construction project Klipra was so involved in, he immediately catches a red flag.

It turns out the real bad guy WAS Jens Brekke all along. The man wanted the ambassador’s fortune, which was to go via will to Runa instead of the ambassador himself due to family issues. But Brekke couldn’t kill just Runa because then the money would return to the regular line of succession. Since he also wanted control of the construction project Klipra was involved in (heading for a big payout if it succeeded), Brekke killed the ambassador AND Klipra on the same day, stashed the ambassador’s body in the brothel, and dumped Klipra in a freezer.

Then he carefully set up the clues to solidify his own alibi and arrange the evidence to point to Klipra as the culprit. Once he was free after his brief arrest, he kidnapped Runa and murdered her, too, returning the inheritance to the one person left: the ambassador’s wife, Hilde, who is terminally ill. Brekke had been romancing Hilde for months in an affair and planned to marry her, let her die, and then grab the inheritance — because technically, he’d already spent it, on Klipra’s construction project, which he pushed in on using a puppet company to buy up stocks.

Thankfully, Harry figures out Brekke’s plot. But in a moment of rashness, he lets on to Brekke that he knows the truth, and as a result, Brekke kidnaps Loken, amputates the man’s arm, and lets him bleed to death when the man won’t reveal the location of Harry and Liz, who are the only other two people that know the truth. Woo, a large Thai goon who helps out Brekke for most of the book, eventually figures out where the pair are, and attempts to murder both. Liz manages to take down Woo, and an injured Harry chases Brekke to the top of a section of unfinished road, where a showdown ends badly for both men.

More so for Brekke though, who dies.

And Harry wins the day. Barely. But losing Runa and Loken to Brekke’s murderous hand takes a toll on him, and at after leaving the hospital early, he appears to find himself doped up in an opium den, with the images of those he’s lost haunting him.

The End.

Cue Sequel


My Take

Interestingly, I did not finish reading the first book in this series — because it was terrible — and usually that would be the end of a series for me. But, I did my research on the Harry Hole series and discovered that, almost unanimously, fans don’t think the series gets good until book three. (Which may or may not be why the first two books weren’t translated until VERY recently.) Regardless, I decided to stick with this series and check out book two before I moved on to the books that are generally accepted as being the “real” start of Nesbø’s well-written detective series.

And it wasn’t too bad.

But it wasn’t great either.

The biggest downside to this book is that the plot is occasionally hard to follow. There’s a lot of jumping from hour to hour, day to day, location to location with very little transition effort between scenes and chapters. And because there are so many characters (most of them minor) and so many places (with Thai names), the sudden shifts can be rather jarring and difficult to keep track of. Now, one could say Nesbø doesn’t waste time, true, but when the actual murder mystery is as complicated as Nesbø’s are, struggling to follow the movements of the protagonist can be very irritating, especially when you reach key scenes in the book.

On the upside, as mentioned, the murder mystery itself is well plotted and well executed. All the red herrings are there. All the subtle foreshadowing and carefully hidden clues. Nesbø stuffs so many clues that are obvious in hindsight ONLY into his story that it’s pretty incredible the book isn’t full of plot holes. Obviously, Nesbø is an excellent plotter when it comes to the core of his stories. And really, that’s what makes this book satisfying in the end, despite its shortcomings structure-wise. The actual mystery is truly difficult to unravel ahead of time, and you always feel challenged throughout the book to try and figure out the answers before Harry does.

(And generally, you won’t. The twists and turns will still surprise you. By the time you hit the last page, you won’t be able to call the plot “predictable”, no matter what you thought a hundred pages back.)

Character-wise, too, I think Nesbø succeeds on many fronts. He brings in a large and diverse cast whose roles are all important in some way to the core story but who aren’t solely created for it. They have lives and backstories that are mentioned as necessary but don’t overwhelm the main story. Nesbø achieves a good balance with his characters — they all advance the plot without butting in too much or too often. And Harry, as the protagonist, is an interesting guy to follow — an interesting guy with MAJOR issues that always affect the plot in interesting ways.

I think Cockroaches is a definite improvement over The Bat, which I couldn’t bring myself to finish. Structurally, though, it still has a few issues and can be hard to follow at times. I look forward to see how much Nesbø improved between this book and The Redbreast, which fans of the series generally consider to be where the author hits his stride.

Overall, a decent read.


Is It Worth Reading?

If you like detectives, murder mysteries, mature content/themes, and/or anything Norwegian in nature, then you might enjoy Cockroaches. If you like all of those things, definitely check it out. But you might consider skipping straight to The Redbreast, which is what some people do.



3/5 ( )
  ClaraCoulson | Nov 16, 2015 |
A terrifically well-executed mystery, dropping our chilly Nordic detective into another locale halfway 'round the world that strikes him as utterly foreign - and as a result, we get to watch him grow 'out of his element', as it were. Perhaps it's good to read these novels after the rest of the series - having established what Harry is like at home before we see him take off for parts more exotic. And yet, there's a sense of history in these stories - a slight release of tension because we know what will go on to happen to Harry. The stakes, high as they might get, are always hobbled.

More TK at RB: ( )
  drewsof | Sep 30, 2015 |
A terrifically well-executed mystery, dropping our chilly Nordic detective into another locale halfway 'round the world that strikes him as utterly foreign - and as a result, we get to watch him grow 'out of his element', as it were. Perhaps it's good to read these novels after the rest of the series - having established what Harry is like at home before we see him take off for parts more exotic. And yet, there's a sense of history in these stories - a slight release of tension because we know what will go on to happen to Harry. The stakes, high as they might get, are always hobbled.

More TK at RB: ( )
  drewsof | Sep 30, 2015 |
The Norwegian ambassador to Thailand is murdered in a brothel, leading Harry Hole on another complex pursuit. Not Nesbo's best, but not awful. ( )
  VashonJim | Sep 5, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jo Nesboprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bartlett, DonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Among Norwegians living in Thailand there is a rumour circulating that one of their ambassadors, who died as a result of a car accident in Bangkok, was actually murdered under extremely mysterious circumstances. There is no evidence to support this, but it makes for a good story. 
No persons or events mentioned in this book should be confused with real persons or events. Reality is far too strange for that. 
Bangkok, 23 February 1998
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The traffic lights changed to green, and the roar from lorries, cars, motorbikes and tuk-Turks rose higher and higher until Dim could see the glass in Robinson's department store vibrating.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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When the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand is found dead in a Bangkok brothel, Inspector Harry Hole is dispatched from Oslo to help hush up the case. But once he arrives Harry discovers that this case is about much more than one random murder. There is something else, something more pervasive, scrabbling around behind the scenes. Or, put another way, for every cockroach you see in your hotel room, there are hundreds behind the walls. Surrounded by round-the-clock traffic noise, Harry wanders the streets of Bangkok lined with go-go bars, temples, opium dens, and tourist traps, trying to piece together the story of the ambassador's death even though no one asked him to, and no one wants him to, not even Harry himself.… (more)

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