The Cockroaches (novel)

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The Cockroaches (novel cover).jpg
Softcover edition
Author Jo Nesbø
Original title Kakerlakkene
Translator Don Bartlett
Country Norway
Language Norwegian
Series Harry Hole, #2
Genre crime novel
Publication date
1998 (in Norwegian); 2013 (in English)
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Preceded by The Bat
Followed by The Redbreast

Cockroaches (Norwegian: Kakerlakkene, 1998) is a crime novel by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø, the second in the Harry Hole series.


The Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand is found stabbed to death in a very questionable motel (in fact, a brothel) on the outskirts of Bangkok.[1] Harry Hole - a highly insubordinate police officer and an alcoholic to boot, but also the most brilliant detective of the Crime Squad in Oslo - is sent to work with the Thai Police in solving the crime before the scandal hits the newspaper headlines.

Harry's first stop in Bangkok is the Norwegian Embassy - where he quickly uncovers seething passions just under the surface. The deep professional rivalry between career diplomats and political appointees (of whom the late Ambassador was one) mixes with the shameful secrets of the Ambassador's family and the tangled personal lives of other Embassy staff, Norwegian diplomats and Thai employees alike.[2]

Harry discovers that the Ambassador had lost heavily in betting on horse racing - a very popular pastime in Thailand - and had become indebted to notorious loan sharks. Following this lead, Harry along with his new colleagues of the Bangkok Police penetrates deeply among criminals in the city's shadier neighborhoods - leading to some spectacular violent confrontations, but giving no real clue as to the Ambassador's murder.

A major clue is, however, provided by the "dual culture" murder weapon - a Thai knife, but one which had been greased with reindeer grease, as used by the Sami people of Norway's Far North. This clearly indicates that the Norwegian Ambassador was killed by a Norwegian criminal, and that members of the small expatriate Norwegian colony in Thailand are prime suspects.

Harry Hole's fellow countrymen and -women, scattered through Bangkok, are a varied bunch - from an old man whose home is filled with photos of Grieg and Nansen and Norwegian Fjord landscapes, to a vivid, fragile young woman reveling in the endless noise and traffic of the Thai capital. They carry Norway with them, with their distinctive regional accents (one long-time resident of Bangkok is mentioned as speaking "Thai with a Nordland accent") and such specific memories of the Norwegian countryside as eel fishermen's lore or a farmer's daughter managing to trap the young heir of the village's richest family into a loveless marriage.

Such glimpses of the characters' Norwegian past could provide Harry with vital clues to dark secrets they might harbor in their Thai present: Norwegian peadophiles taking advantage of Thailand's booming sex industry to exploit young boys with impunity; ruthless Norwegian entrepreneurs who would stop at literally nothing to gain the very lucrative contracts for renovating Bangkok's gridlocked transport system...

The deeper Harry delves, the closer he comes to opening political pandora's boxes, exposing conservative hypocrisies in Norway's ruling Christian Democratic Party and shaking the seat of the recently installed Prime Minister of Norway.[3] The Police Chiefs of Bangkok and Oslo, in urgent intercontinental phone consultation, resolve to terminate Harry's investigation and send him home. When he obstinately refuses, more crude means are used to make him stop, including threats, harsh blackmail and a very nearly successful attempt on his life by a giant Chinese assassin hired from the local mafia.

With time running very short, Harry must thread through a maze of misleading clues and red herrings, and determine which of several seemingly respectable Norwegian expatriates is the meticulous and ruthless killer he seeks - and who during the weeks of Harry's stay in Bangkok committed several more murders. Virtually the only one Harry can trust is the case-hardened Inspector Liz Crumley, half-Thai half-American detective of the Bangkok Police Homicide Department, who is willing to risk both her career and her life in helping him.

Oslo background[edit]

Only two preliminary chapters of The Cockroaches are set in Oslo, prior to Harry's departure for Thailand. They are, however, important in introducing many people and locales which would play an important part in later books. These include Harry's favorite "watering hole" - Schroeder's, near to his apartment in the rather disreputable Bislett area of Oslo, and its sharp-tongued barmaid Rita; Harry's direct superior Bjarne Møller, who highly appreciates him and is willing to cover up for his drinking and other misdemeanors; Harry's father, who never recovered from the loss of his wife, the detective's mother, as well as Harry's warm-hearted sister to whom he is deeply devoted; and Harry's memorable first encounter with Tom Waaler who would become his arch-enemy - mutual hate at first sight, with their first meeting leading within five minutes to a fist-fight, harbinger of an enmity which would further escalate in later books. The Cockroaches also introduces the general atmosphere of intrigues and sinister power struggles in the higher echelons of the Norwegian government and Oslo police, which are a regular feature of the Harry Hole series.

Translation History[edit]

It took a long time for the novel to be translated into English, with British and American publishers giving precedence to later books of the series, set in Harry Hole's home ground of Oslo. Only after Harry Hole gained a large and devoted following in the English-speaking world were the first two books of the series - set respectively in Australia and Thailand - translated. Fifteen years after being originally published in Norwegian, "The Cockroaches" was published in the UK in November 2013[4] and the US in February 2014.


  1. ^ Michael Robbins (February 7, 2014). "Review: 'Cockroaches' by Jo Nesbo". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on November 28, 2013. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  2. ^ Barry Forshaw (November 14, 2013). "Book review: Cockroaches, By Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett". The Independent. Archived from the original on June 1, 2014. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  3. ^ Nesbo does not mention the PM's name. Kjell Magne Bondevik from Norway's Christian Democratic Party did become Prime Minister in 1997, about a year before the book was published.
  4. ^ "Jo Nesbø at Salomonsson". Salomonsson Agency. Archived from the original on September 19, 2007. Retrieved March 21, 2007. 

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