#BlogTour- Gunnar Staalesen- Wolves At The Door

One dark January night a car drives at high speed towards PI Varg Veum, and comes very close to killing him. Veum is certain this is no accident, following so soon after the deaths of two jailed men who were convicted for their participation in a case of child pornography and sexual assault, crimes that Veum himself once stood wrongly accused of committing. While the guilty men were apparently killed accidentally, Varg suspects that there is something more sinister at play, and that he’s on the death list of someone still at large. Fearing for his life, Veum begins to investigate the old case, interviewing the victims of abuse and delving deeper into the brutal crimes, with shocking results. The wolves are no longer in the dark, they are at his door. And they want vengeance…

I think it’s no exaggeration to say that Gunnar Staalesen is singularly the most difficult author I have to review, as his books are just so consistently superb, and beautifully translated by Don Bartlett. To this end, each new instalment of the Varg Veum series just puts an increasing strain on the scope of my vocabulary and my stash of superlatives, so apologies for any noticeable repetition detected of previous reviews for We Shall Inherit The Wind , Where Roses Never Die, Wolves In The Dark, and Big Sister. So now we come to Wolves At The Door, where the shadow of the misdemeanours of Veum’s past, both real and imagined come back to haunt this most tenacious of private investigators in the streets of his beloved Bergen and beyond…

This book is closely linked to the catastrophic events of Wolves In The Dark, but as ever with Staalesen, each of these books can be read in isolation, with the precise, and concise use of back story always contained within the books. Consequently, the reader can quickly get a handle on why Veum is once again under threat, and  the dangerous lengths he needs to go to in order to discover why. As is usual, the slightly gung-ho actions of Veum, also have ramifications for those he is closest too, and places a maybe unbridgeable strain on his most personal relationships. Staalesen always exhibits a sublime skill in his plotting, with a smooth, assured grip on the tension, pace and use of reveals in particular, so we experience the same level of frustration as Veum as his lines of investigation are consistently blurred by a web of lies, deception and interludes of violence.

I thought this plot was exceptionally well realised, bringing to the fore the age old hypothesis of nature vs nurture, the issues of familial dysfunction and how this manifests itself in the victims and survivors of abuse, and is natural justice more warranted in some cases than the grinding wheels of legal justice. Staalesen explores these themes with an intensity and clear sightedness through his conduit Veum, a former social worker illustrating once again, that alongside his innate ability to draw the reader in to an extremely well-structured and compelling thriller, these additional levels of societal and behavioural exploration serves to raise his books above the depressingly familiar norm of thrillers exploring the world of domestic abuse and family conflict.

Aside from Veum being such a vivid, slightly flawed and genuinely likeable character, with his tenacious attitude, his companionable relationship with aquavit, and his sometimes foolhardy denial of not being the spring chicken he was, these books always appeal to my own love of language and taut dialogue. I have never reached the end of one of Staalesen’s books without noting down several pages containing sharp and snappy exchanges, or just brilliant punchy little observations such as “On the way up to the house I passed a thawing snowman bent at the hip, an arthritic terpsichorean,” Staalesen has an elasticity of phrase, and what I perceive to be a general love of, and skill for, honing his language to compress a visual panorama into a pared down image, or short, taut description which reveals so much to the reader by saying relatively little. I also get a large amount of enjoyment from Veum’s perfectly delivered cynical asides in the face of other people’s stupidity- an admirable quality that dissipates the general irritation that the sometimes crotchety Veum experiences pretty much every day in his interactions with pretty much everybody. There are exceptions to this rule of course revealing an assuring soft-centeredness to him, which then quickly dissipates yet again, bringing a welcome return to cynicism and irritation as the idiots raise their ugly heads again.   

So, once again, Wolves At The Door accrues a five star rating for a five star book from a five star author, and a five star translator Don Bartlett. There is little more to say, apart from a personal note to Gunnar Staalesen in the light of the ending this book, you might want to rethink the beekeeping idea for both Veum’s sanity and ours…

Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- We Shall Inherit The Wind #VargVeum

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Attention all Scandinavian crime fiction fans, I bring glad tidings of great joy! With a writing career spanning forty years, and hailed as the Norwegian Raymond Chandler, Gunnar Staalesen strangely remains largely undiscovered by many crime readers, due partly to the very sporadic publication of his books for the UK market. So it is with a glad heart that I see that he has secured a new publisher in the UK, with We Shall Inherit The Wind the first to appear, and hopefully with it, a chance for more of you to either revisit or to discover anew this formidable writer…

The story opens in 1998, with Varg Veum, a private investigator from Bergen, sitting by the bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin, whose life hangs in the balance due to the mistakes Veum has made in a recent investigation. The novel then backtracks through this investigation, where Veum has been called upon to investigate the disappearance of Mons Maeland, a wind-farm inspector, and whose wife, Raenvig is a friend of Karin’s. Maeland’s involvement in the contentious issue of wind-power would seem to be the primary reason for his disappearance, and later murder, but with the suspicious circumstances of his previous wife’s alleged suicide, and his complicated familial relationships, Veum has his work cut out to uncover a killer, and at huge personal cost.

51ePFKhhZXL_SX316Although, I have not read widely in this series, I have read enough to appreciate the strength of Staalesen’s characterisation in relation to Veum, and how he is unerringly the lynchpin to the strength of this series. With his cynical and witty asides, an unflinching attitude to those who would thwart his investigations, and his dogged moral determination, Veum is a hugely likeable and vivid character. The comparisons to Chandler’s Marlowe are not amiss, as Veum navigates his way through different classes of people, and stratas of society with consumate ease, with his easy charm and utter professionalism, but, most importantly, with the all too natural human failings when his investigations strike too close to home. We Shall Inherit The Wind demonstrates this admirably, with the fall-out from this case impacting so seriously on his personal life, and the consequences to Karin. I love the characterisation of their less than conventional relationship and the inherent warmth and respect that exists between them, so much so that the incredibly understated but powerfully emotive conclusion to this case was hugely moving, due to Karin’s fight between life and death.

As Veum is tasked with investigating the less familiar world of natural energy, in the form of wind power, it gives Staalesen ample opportunity to take his readers into somewhat unfamiliar terrain, both with the contentious issues arising from this supposedly harmless energy source, and into the community that would be so deeply affected by its implementation. Consequently, Veum finds himself uprooted from Bergen to the small island community of Brennoy, where environmental campaigners are going head to head with the orchestrators of the wind farms. Through the conduit of fiction, Staalesen provides a balanced view of the pros and cons of man’s continual seeking of control of the natural world to provide fuel for our existence, and it was interesting to see the contrasting viewpoints. Likewise, I thought that Staalesen captured perfectly the petty jealousies and chequered histories of the island’s inhabitants, as their links with the murdered man gradually came to light, against the beautifully realised backdrop of this wild and largely unspoilt island terrain.

If you like Scandinavian fiction, and have not encountered Staalesen before, I cannot recommend him highly enough. All the familiar tropes of the genre are in evidence here, with the close attention to characterisation, location, and the way that Nordic writers put current social issues at the front and centre of their crime narratives. Held strongly together by the character of the marvellous Varg Veum himself, I am delighted to see the return of Staalesen. Satisfaction guaranteed.

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947.  He made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series.  He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen with his wife. The next instalments in the Varg Veum series – Where Roses Never Die and No One Is So Safe in Danger – will be published by Orenda Books in 2016 and 2017.

Don’t forget to visit Live Many Lives tomorrow on the next stop of the blog tour…

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)