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Sean Barrett: narrating Harry Hole

Sean Barrett, narrator of the Jo Nesbo audiobooks, tells us what it’s like to step into the shoes of Harry Hole.

Harry Hole is an alcoholic, which blights his personal and professional life. He is deeply in love with Rakel, and he is a brilliant homicide detective. So in the genre of police dramas, what’s new? For me, the tension one feels as a reader, waiting for him to fall off the wagon again, is almost as great as any of the hair-raising encounters Harry has with the bad guys – and he comes up against some really, really bad ones. My first encounter with Harry was in The Snowman (perhaps I should rephrase that, considering what happens…) in February 2010, and I have now finished recording Jo Nesbo’s twelfth Harry Hole audiobook, Knife. It’s brilliant.

The Harry Hole audiobooks are wonderful to work on, except there is an irritation about preparing to record a brilliant book: you want to put down the pen, stop making notes and just read on to find out what happens! And I think I can say without spoiling anything, there is a massive surprise towards the end of the book. I know some narrators read the book through first without making notes, but I start on the preparation straight away. Pen in hand, page one, blank sheet of paper soon to be covered in notes.

Knife is set in Norway, mainly Oslo, so there are a lot of notes I need to make about place names, street names, people’s names – and therefore a lot of pronunciations I need to check. For example, Harry’s surname does not sound like something you dig (Hole), it has two syllables: Hool-uh. That said, I do dig Harry Hole.

Then there are the character notes. Jo Nesbo has characters from different parts of the country, and sometimes he says specifically that a character has a regional accent. How to render that in English rather than Norwegian? I look at a map of Norway. In general, for northern regions I’ll put on a northern English accent, and the same for southern regions. If a narrator is lucky, they’ll have useful personal contacts: a friend of my daughter comes from Bergen, and she has been a great help with the specific pronunciations throughout these books.

After all that preparation and research, the next step is just a question of going into the studio, sitting in front of the mic and recording the full audiobook, which takes about three days. It’s another acting job, albeit a different technique. A friend of mine, a great narrator, said, “it’s watercolours instead of oils” – though Jo Nesbo has some characters who demand oils, including, quite often, Harry himself.

How many Jo Nesbo audiobooks have you listened to? Let us know in the comments below!

Sean Barrett
Sean Barrett
Sean Barrett

Sean Barrett is an English actor and voice actor. He is the narrator of all twelve Harry Hole audiobooks.


    Agreed with all comments above. I love his narration so much that I now search for books narrated by him rather than search by author. His command of all the different accents is second to none. I first listened to him through the Harry Hole series (my personal favourites) and much preferred it to actually reading the books. His narrations of the Wilbur Smith books is equally superb. I look forward to listening to more books narrated by Sean

    Since I started listening to Audiobooks Sean Barrett has been my favourite narrator and his Harry Hole books are amongst the best. As he narrates Michael Robothams O’Loughlin and Mick Herrons Slough House series I can honestly say Sean’s voice is frequently the last I hear before I sleep. He is quite simply superb.

    Sean Barrett is also my absolute favourite. Came to him through Harry Hole and found many of his other narrations, he is brilliant.
    Knife is breathtakingly good.

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