What a disappointment. I thought The Bat was rough around the edges because it was the first in a series and assumed the author would have honed his style and method. Wrong on both counts.
First, the mystery: I managed to guess the killer at about 40% without even trying, and there wasn’t anything in the book to make me doubt and question my decision. And it wasn’t just the usual „it’s probably the least suspicious, friendly guy who’s lurking around the edges of the story“ (which it totally was), but there was such a sloppy tell I couldn’t believe it was there – a little before they find their first suspect death by apparent suicide, the killer calls Harry and tells him that his guy was asking him about the poison they eventually find in his veins. And then Harry proves it was murder – and doesn’t stop to think about this other guy having called him and obviously LIED about the poor dead guy asking him about it?! Really, the famous detective Harry Hole, whose brain makes the most amazing associations and sees stuff nobody else can see, didn’t think for one second back to that conversation and realise it was PROOF Mathias was his guy? This single incident is three sins in one: 1. it absolutely spoils the ending for anyone paying even a little attention to what they’re reading; 2. leaves an inexplicable hole in Harry’s supposedly prodigious deduction process; 3. makes the murderer seems totally dumb because not only was that a completely unnecessary thing to do (they would have concluded suicide even without anyone telling them about the victim’s supposed interest in the poison), but it unequivocally points the finger at him if they realise it was murder. Well, they didn’t, which brings it back to sin No. 2.
Another glaring hole was Harry’s suspicion of Katrine – AFTER he realised she was Rafto’s daughter. Any idiot (including this reader) would think of the most obvious explanation first – especially given the fact that she tried killing each one of the suspects – was that she wanted to avenge her father. That Harry Hole never even thought of that possibility, even if just to discard for whatever convoluted reason, was the height of incredibility. And, even if he had thought of it and discarded it, his next thought should have been of her motive. Why would she kill her father? More importantly, why would she kill those random women? Not even a line to address those obvious questions.
Apart from these two inexplicable amateurish mistakes, the murders were unsatisfactorily executed IMO – why the snowman? Ok, so he smuggled the bodies in the university under fake information, but what did he do with the bodies to whom that information belonged?The motivation was all over the place – it was at the same time misogyny, mommy issues, righteous anger, Messiah complex and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few others. The psychological stream of consciousness about the killer and about Katrine was little more than a jumble of scientifically sounding words without any weight of knowledge behind them. It’s all a lazy amalgam of cliches.
The style: noticeably worse than The Bat. Very poor characterisation with unconvincing characters, which makes the extra bloat around the murder plot super boring. I didn’t care about any of the characters so I couldn’t bring myself to be interested in their fates or thoughts. A lot of space is dedicated to Harry’s narcissistic self-pity over all the lives he’s apparently ruined – that’s distasteful and only made me dislike the character, which at least wasn’t the case in The Bat. The detailed descriptions of women’s looks (with a focus on their fuckability), contrasted with basically no physical characteristics for any of the men except for Harry, was really grating, too.
The second star is for the unbelievable suspense during the climax. It was superb – but it can’t make up for the rest of the book.