Book Review: Wolves in the Dark

Wolves in the Dark, by Gunnar Staalesen (translated by Don Bartlett), is the third book in the author’s Varg Veum series of crime thrillers to be translated into English by Orenda Books (you may read my reviews of the first two here and here). Four years after the death of his beloved Karin, Veum is slowly dragging himself from the mire into which his grief took him. He is now in a relationship with Sølvi, although her faith in him is about to be tested.

The book opens with Veum being arrested for accessing child pornography on line. He is accused of being part of an international operation supplying images and videos of such content. Incriminating evidence is found on his office computer and personal laptop. Veum vehemently denies the charges but the investigating officers do not believe his claim that he had no idea the files were there. When his lawyer requests information about potential contacts from his past who may be seeking revenge, Veum is forced to admit to alcohol induced gaps in his memory since Karin’s death.

As a private investigator of many years standing Veum has accumulated a bank of enemies. He delves his patchy recollections but realises that the evidence against him and the understandable revulsion felt by those who are convinced of his guilt undermine his protestations of innocence. When an opportunity to escape incarceration unexpectedly presents itself he goes on the run. He must solve his own case before being recaptured or face a prison term where he would likely be punished by inmates as the worst possible type of offender.

The plot is tightly constructed and written with a droll humour that offers relief from the sickening subject matter and page turning tension. Veum deploys a direct approach to people of interest in his investigations, a tactic that further angers those he interrogates but which builds the intrigue for the reader. There are the requisite twists and turns with blind alleys and dubious characters. Few of those he encounters emerge untainted in some way.

This challenging topic is tackled with empathy and skill, characters rising from the pages fully formed, grotesquely believable. Veum may not be entirely likable but it is hard not to confer a degree of sympathy for his predicament.

A dark thriller that uses its setting in Norway to fine affect. This is a gritty, gripping read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This post is a stop on the Wolves in the Dark Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Wolves in the Dark is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

Where Roses Never Die – Guest Post by Gunnar Staalesen

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Today I am delighted to welcome the author of the Varg Veum series of crime novels, Gunnar Staalson, to my blog. Gunnar’s books are already best sellers in his native Norway. Thanks to Orenda Books they are now being made available in English. The latest to be translated is titled ‘When Roses Never Die’. You may find my thoughts on it here. In this guest post Gunnar explains where the title of the book came from, and tells us a little about his inspiration for the plot.

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I have always been fascinated by the type of religious songs you might hear in what is called a ‘bedehus’ in Norway: in English a chapel or a meeting house, where believers meet to celebrate their faith in God.

These are songs that take a simple, almost childish view of life and, perhaps more importantly, of the after-life – that place beyond the pearly gates, in a city ‘where the roses never fade’, which is, in fact, the English title of this type of song – of which I am so fond. You can find this song on YouTube and listen to it there. In Norwegian the title is ‘Der hvor roser aldri dør’ – ‘Where Roses Never Die’; and my wonderful English translator, Don Bartlett, chose this direct translation of the Norwegian for the title of my latest book published in English, instead of the more popular ‘Where the Roses Never Fade’. Whichever title you choose, the content is the same: for the people left behind there is comfort to be found in the belief that close relatives who are dead have simply travelled to another and much happier world; a place where the roses neither fade nor die. In the case of my latest Varg Veum thriller, it can also refer to what lies beneath the roses, but you’ll find out more about that when you read the book.

For me, this was the perfect title for a crime novel that was inspired by two real Norwegian crime cases, in which two very young girls – we know them both by name –disappeared without trace. Neither has ever been found, and what happened to them is known to no one except – if he still lives – the man (and it is most likely a man) who took them away

As a parent and grandparent I can’t think of a more cruel fate than this: a little child disappears, and, despite the efforts of the police and however much the media talks about it, you never get the answer to the question: What happened to our beloved child?

In Where Roses Never Die a woman comes to Varg Veum’s office and presents him with exactly this question. Her daughter, Mette, a three-year-old girl, disappeared from the sandpit outside her home almost twenty-five years earlier. Now, as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws near, and the killer – if there is one – will go free, she asks Varg to make a last attempt to find out what happened to her little daughter. Varg is himself full of sorrow, and has for the previous three years, for his own reasons, drunk far too much of his favoured aquavit, so he is not sure if he is able to help this woman. Or perhaps even himself.

However, he takes on the mission, and it does not take him long to find out that there some dark secrets hidden behind the story of Mette’s disappearance. In fact,he has to dig deeper than the local sandpit to find answers.

Will he uncover the truth? You have to read the book to find the answer to that question. And while you are reading, why not listen to that beautiful song, ‘Where the Roses Never Fade’ in the background?

 

This post is part of the Where Roses Never Die Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

Roses Never Die Blog tour (1)    Where Roses Never Die cover Vis copy 2

‘Where Roses Never Die’ is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now. 

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Book Review: Where Roses Never Die

Where Roses Never Die cover Vis copy 2

Where Roses Never Die, by Gunner Staalsen (translated by Don Bartlett), is set three years after the first of the Varg Veum series to be translated into English, We Shall Inherit the Wind, which I review here.

At the start of the story Private Investigator Veum is in a bad way. He gets through each day by drinking and has been funding his habit by taking on the cases he would prefer to shun. The arrival in his office of Maja Misvaer, whose three year old daughter, Mette, disappeared from outside their home almost twenty-five years ago, offers him a chink of light in a life that has been overcome by the darkness of memory and loss.

The book opens with a robbery in a jewellery store during which an apparently random passer by is shot and subsequently dies. The robbers make their getaway by boat and, three months later, with no leads to follow, the police have all but given up on solving the crime. Veum followed the case in the papers but pays it little attention until he discovers that the murdered man had lived in the same housing complex as the little girl, whose wherabouts he has been commissioned to find, at the time she disappeared.

Veum interviews the police officers who investigated the initial disappearance as well as all those who lived in the five houses built around the courtyard where Mette was last seen playing. He discovers that these families were close in an unexpected way. With dogged determination he circumvents their reluctance to talk and digs into their pasts, unearthing secrets they had held close for decades.

The writing makes much use of narrative alongside Veum’s musings on the case. The voice I was hearing in my head brought to mind TV cops from the 70s with the use of similes and Veum’s moralistic stance, somewhat hypocritical given his own past behaviour. The feminist in me bristled at some of the attitudes but they realistically evoke the time and place. Norway, with its dark weather and uncompromising landscape, reflect the protagonist.

The plot twists and turns around each new revelation offering the reader much to ponder. The events leading up to the denouement had me dreading what was to be revealed. Despite my apprehension I could not look away.

A tense, starkly captivating read this is a must for fans of Nordic Noir. Highly recommended to all who look for depth and tenebrosity in their crime fiction.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.

Book Review: We Shall Inherit the Wind

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We Shall Inherit the Wind, by Gunnar Staalesen (translated by Don Bartlett) is a dark and brooding crime thriller which transports the reader to the wind swept islands of western Norway. The voice of the protagonist is distinctly male and Scandinavian but the female characters are no mere adornments. This is a story populated with a strong and often hostile cast as befits the environment in which they play their parts.

The opening chapter sees Varg Veum, a fifty-five year old private investigator, sitting by the hospital bedside of his girlfriend Karin who is in a coma with life threatening injuries. Verg blames himself for her condition and what follows is the story of how they ended up in this place.

Varg reminds me of the investigators from television series of old yet this story is contemporary in nature. At its heart is a controversial wind farm development on a remote island and the clash between business interests, religious fundamentalists, the economic prospects for locals and a variety of environmental concerns. It is rarely made clear who the good or the bad guys are. The reader is not unduly led to take sides in the various arguments, a nebulosity which adds to the strength of the tale.

Travelling around the fjords and islands the bleakly beautiful landscape dominates the narrative. As the various characters fight for their corners the reader is shown the transience of individuals when placed against a backdrop of unforgiving weather and mighty sea.

There are detailed descriptions of the people Varg meets, their physical appearance and the clothes they wear. Houses are also fully presented: surroundings, building style, colour schemes, furniture, ornaments, the pictures on the walls.

I enjoyed some of the similes used:

An unknown face in an out of the way place “like a flower arrangement in a garage workshop”

A female character “like a perfumed glacier”

I will ever after think of the old library at Trinity College, Dublin as “the place where all books went when they died”

The plot is compelling with new intrigues unfolding as each page is turned. I had not anticipated the denouement. Although somewhat shocking in nature it was a satisfying conclusion.

This book is already an international bestseller and it is easy to see why. A distinctive and welcome addition to the crime fiction genre, I look forward to reading more of Varg Vaum’s adventures which the publisher has promised will be released over the next couple of years.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.