Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- Big Sister

Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously.
Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal…

Just when you thought that wily private investigator Varg Veum’s personal life couldn’t get any more complicated, Staalesen illustrates once again his ability to stretch his character to almost breaking point. Grappling with ghosts of the past, and a particularly emotional and troublesome missing person case, Veum is tested to the limit in the course of this all too personal investigation…

It goes without saying that Staalesen consistently produces crime thrillers to the highest standard, and considering how many books have featured the mercurial Varg Veum it is a remarkable achievement to keep a main protagonist so fresh and interesting after so many encounters. And yet this is what Staalesen does, and Big Sister is no exception. From the nod to Chandler in the title of the book itself, Staalesen once again engages us completely with Veum in his now trademark drily witty and hardboiled style. It’s almost as if Staalesen treats Veum as a metaphorical onion, peeling back layer after layer to reveal other aspects of Veum’s character, and unerringly placing him in difficult physical and emotional situations, which are all the more entertaining for us. I think the thing I enjoy most though is the very palpable sense of Veum getting older, and how he reacts differently to situations he’s placed in, as opposed to his younger self, whilst retaining that slightly gung-ho impetuousness and then realising his physical limitations as an older man. The deadpan humour, and cynical world view are in evidence as normal, but Staalesen tempers this beautifully with Veum’s realisation that his life to this point has not been all that it appears, and weighs him down beautifully as to how far he should pursue the truth of his family history. I loved the unfolding of this particular part of the plot, as Veum tries to reconcile his own character with what he knows of where his true parentage lies, and his sudden inclusion in a family and community as the truth of the past is revealed. Staalesen handles this arc of the story sensitively, and fully conveys the emotional confusion that Veum experiences, whilst tempering it to perfection with Veum’s naturally stoical personality.

In the main plot of the missing person investigation, Staalesen again weaves a complex connectivity between Veum and those he encounters, as they seek to evade and conceal their involvement with the victim. This book again takes us to some very dark places dealing with weighty issues such as sexual abuse, suicide, organised crime and addiction, and as always Veum’s gritty determination to solve the case, leads him and those closest to him into physical danger. I always enjoy Veum’s interactions with those he questions, chipping away at them until they either give up what the know, or punch him on the nose. Staalesen’s fluid dialogue, so resonant of the hardboiled masters, is here in spades, and complimented by a twisting and testing plot,  and with no exceedingly obvious guilty party there was, as always, much to enjoy here. With pithy references to the ills of contemporary society, the habitual strong sense of place, and a beautifully weighted translation again by Don Bartlett,  Big Sister is a brilliant addition to one of the most consistent and enjoyable European crime thriller series. Just what will Staalesen put Veum through next I wonder…. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#BlogTour- Gunnar Staalesen-Wolves In The Dark

Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material,  and who is seeking the ultimate revenge. When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet…

And so, it is time once again for Gunnar Staalesen to put his redoubtable private detective, Varg Veum,  through an emotional wringer, and visit all kinds of hell upon him in his most personally harrowing investigation yet. Merely further confirming his pedigree as one of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction writers of the modern age, Wolves In The Dark, is among Staalesen’s darkest, and most finely crafted, novels to date…

What is to be most admired about this latest addition to the series, is the complexity of the plotting, which absolutely captures and illustrates the maelstrom of confusion and grief that has defined Veum’s life over a significant period of time. The narrative continually reaches back into Veum’s descent into alcoholism and blackouts following the death of his beloved Karin, and as Veum seeks to piece together events and actions from this dark time in his personal life, Staalesen  plays with the themes of memory, and morality in equal measure. Attention must be paid as the storyline ebbs and flows between the past and present, and small moments of clarity begin to punctuate Veum’s memory of recent events. I would certainly recommended reading in larger sections, as the previous investigations that may go some way to explain Veum’s current dilemma are so important in the overall story arc, and it’s easy to lose track of the pertinent details in shorter sittings.

I thought the depiction of this swirling miasma of confusion and truth seeking that Veum has to endure was superbly done, and cleverly invites the reader in as a second pair of eyes, as Veum seeks to reconcile his memory of events with the very dark accusations against him. I also appreciated the way that Staalesen treats the subject of grief, harnessing and examining Veum’s despair through his actions,  and by extension drawing on the reader’s empathy throughout. The astute combination of plotting and characterisation is exceptionally well-crafted, and as Veum is pushed to the limits of his self-awareness and morality, Staalesen weaves a tale that is by turn disturbing, and emotive. Not only is Veum accused of such a distasteful crime, but Staalesen artfully balances Veum’s own moral self examination, with those of his investigators, and those that seek to help, and defend him. In the face of adversity Veum takes extreme action to defend his reputation, but the immoral taint of accusation is a difficult one to be cleansed of. By using the theme of cybercrime, and particularly Veum’s general naivety of the pernicious reach of this offence, Staalesen exposes a dangerous world lacking human morality, and decency, and Veum is continually portrayed as a man adrift, thwarting his quest for truth further…

Wolves In The Dark has to rank as one of my favourite books in the series to date, immersing Varg Veum in a real personal trauma , which dents his natural humour and bonhomie, and causes him to question and reassess an incredibly dark period of his history, barely functioning under the weight of grief. The book is infinitely more downbeat than Staalesen’s usual fare, but interestingly plays with the themes of grief, recollection, guilt and morality through Veum himself, and those central to the previous cases that become integral in the search to clear his name. Thoughtful, introspective, and, as usual, completely absorbing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

   Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

June 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)I’ve already had my say about the farcical EU referendum, and the ensuing anger and unease that accompanied its outcome, so let’s get onto the fun stuff:  the books, the books. This has been a very productive month for the Raven in terms of books read, and if you’re currently considering what to be reading over the summer there are some real crackers here…

SJI Holliday- Willow Walk

Bill Daly- Cutting Edge

Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost

Jack Grimwood- Moskva

A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

Gunnar Staalesen- Where Roses Never Die

Michael Grothaus- Epiphany Jones

Emma Cline- The Girls

Eric Rickstad- The Silent Girls

Colin Winnette- Haint Stay 

Colin Winnette- Coyote  

John Sweeney- Cold

The additional good news is that I have another four reviews waiting in the wings- Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh, Simon Booker- Without Trace, Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing and Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding. July is an absolute corker for crime publishing and there are further treats in store.

20 booksHowever, my 20 Books of Summer Challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com is progressing less well than expected. I have read the giddy total of…2… mmmm… not great. So I will hang fire on posting reviews for these two until I can provide a more fulsome post for you… *slapped wrists* (However, Raven’s mum has read 7 of her 20 picks. That’s just plain showing off…).

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

I can honestly say that June has been a reading pleasure, and pretty much all of the list above entertained, gripped or thrilled me to some degree. I was particularly taken with SJI Holliday’s Willow Walk, Jack Grimwood’s Moskva, and the bearded genius that is Colin Winnette.

92ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAnd speaking of bearded genius, the accolade of Book of the Month goes to the hirsute Michael Grothaus for the truly extraordinary, unsettling and singularly strange Epiphany Jones. A book that repulsed, mystified and enchanted me in equal measure, and one that rolled around my subconscious for days after reading. As I said in my review, it’s not for everyone, but this one thought it was just swell.

Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- Where Roses Never Die – Review

gunnarGunnar Staalesen is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction writers of the modern age, so it’s an absolute pleasure to be involved in this blog tour, marking the release of the latest in his Varg Veum series, Where Roses Never Die

September 1977. Mette Misvaer, a three-year-old girl disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordas is devastated, but their enquiries and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found. Almost 25 years later, as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette’s mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge…

Averse as I am to gushing, with some authors it’s difficult to remain completely objective when you have genuinely loved every single book that they have ever produced. Such is my problem- but a nice problem- with the venerable Mr Staalesen, and Where Roses Never Die, which merely compounds my adoration of this series to date.

As there is a deliciously dark twist in this book, I will not tarry long on the plot, but needless to say Staalesen once again employs his tactic of making the reader believe that what they are witnessing is a fairly simple investigation, in this case possible child abduction/murder and a jewellery store robbery. But nothing so straightforward my friends. Staalesen has a wonderful way of calmly exposing a very nasty underbelly to Veum’s investigation that will both unsettle and disturb you, all through a measured unfolding of Veum’s probing discoveries, and the exposure of his protagonist’s true nature and motivations. As you think that the investigation is going steadily in one direction, a follow up interview or a loose casual remark uncovers another dark thread for Veum to follow, and the innocent are not always as innocent as we believe. Staalesen’s plotting is consistently faultless and this book proves no exception. Question everything you think you know, and don’t be fooled, there are some rum characters in this one.

Staalesen is incredibly good at exposing the kinks in the psychological make-up and behaviour throughout his characterisation, from his dogged and haunted PI Veum , through the layers of deceit and misdirection that the surrounding cast of characters exhibit as he searches for truth and resolution. Veum is such a non-linear, unpredictable character and cleverly, the familiarity we think we have with him as readers is effectively warped in each book, as Staalesen seems to re-assess and redraw him slightly in each investigation, exposing different facets of the man both personally and professionally. The natural cynical humour, and determination to unsettle and irritate some of those he encounters remains a constant though, and I love the way that Staalesen extends this feature of Veum’s character to poke affectionate fun at the locale of Bergen and its inhabitants too. On a more serious note though, it is good to see Veum starting to recover from a significant loss in his life, and making a few tentative steps back to the realm of personal relationships, leaving the door open a gap for this emotional recovery to continue in the next book.

Once again, Staalesen has produced another impeccable slice of Nordic noir, that places him at the forefront of the Scandinavian crime writing community. With immaculate and controlled plotting, which throws up a number of dark surprises along the way to nicely unsettle the reader, and the engaging figure of Varg Veum at its centre, Where Roses Never Die is a more than satisfying addition to this excellent series. Highly recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites

Roses Never Die Blog tour- use this one

June 2015 Round-up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)With the twin misfortunes of malfunctioning technology, and a particularly busy month at work, I must apologise for the sporadic content posted this month *hangs head in shame*. With only five reviews posted, I have been a bit slack, but fear not as there are some in the bank,  so to speak, to get July back on course. I have not been idle with my reading, and despite some encroachment on my crime reading with a bit of fiction/non-fiction dabbling, (just to remind myself that I am an all-round bookseller), I have read some terrific books scheduled for release in July, so watch this space. There is one in particular, that I can’t wait to share with you. Intrigued, you will be… There’s also been a quite a few non-starters, but think that says more about how fussy I’m getting than the quality of the writing!  Good news is that there are more blog tours on the horizon too, including one for fellow crime blogger Sarah Ward (Crimepieces) with the release of her debut thriller In Bitter Chill, and am also looking forward to a Q&A coming up with Simon Sylvester- author of The Visitors– in advance of the  Bloody Scotland crime festival. I’ve also had fun putting together my feature on the 5 books that got me hooked on crime, which will be appearing soon over at Crime Fiction Lover, so watch out for that too. With the feeling that finally summer has arrived, hope you all find some thrilling summer reads- July’s going to be a hot one…

Books Reviewed:

William Shaw- A Book of Scars

 Joe Ricker- Walkin’ After Midnight

Gunnar Staalesen- We Shall Inherit The Wind

Anya Lipska- A Devil Under The Skin

Tim J. Lebbon- The Hunt (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month:

51fHJXVRc-L_SX316 Sometimes I regret having set myself up to nominate a book of the month, as Anya Lipska and Gunnar Staalesen both provided me with two brilliant reads *round of applause*, and on any other day could have pipped the venerable Mr Shaw and A Book of Scars to the post. However, Breen and Tozer have fought off the competition once again, in the altogether darker, but no less compelling, addition to Shaw’s brilliant series. The sights and sounds of 60’s Britain, and in this case further afield, compounded by the sympathetic and engaging central protagonists, kept those pages a-turning, and emotions running high. A good cliffhanger too, so more to come. Hurrah!

 

 

 

 

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)