It has taken me some time to write this review. In part I have been busy and distracted but more than that I have struggled to pin down my thoughts on what is a remarkable novel that I found enjoyable, thought provoking and also frustrating. Reading around other people’s opinions, something which can be a blessing and a curse when planning a review, there is a clear difference of opinion and I can see why that is, some people fell in love and others just didn’t get it.
The writing is luxurious but maybe at times over done. The events are captivating but perhaps sometimes a little stretched. The characters are restless and trying to find their way, their lives, and that is where the beauty is for me. It isn’t easy by any means but then life isn’t easy and finding truth and meaning is harder still. Picking through each scene to understand the people who fill it is fascinating but they don’t resolve into neat boxes, they are too human to give easy answers, too real.
Amos Cobb is a handyman at the summer Vermont retreat of the wealthy Shaw family. He develops a relationship with young Aubrey that only goes deeper when Amos is almost killed in a horrific accident that though he somehow survives leaves him maimed and unpalatable to “civilised” eyes, outcast. From this point on they are joined, their lives take different courses but they cross at crucial moments. As men they are very different but they are both seeking peace, salvation from the pain they have been served.
The story moves from Vermont, to Mexico City, the Canadian mountains and Europe. It takes in Hitler as he plans mass slaughter, Greta Garbo in secluded retreat, wealthy industrialist Irenee Du Pont and a string of broken people all suffering in their different ways, all needing to be freed. Dennison Smith is a poet and that comes through both in the prose and the tale. The Eye of the Day feels like an extended poem rather than a novel, in that it is soul food.
Don’t pick this up for a quick read on the beach but do breathe it in and let it work on you. It is not about getting answers, it is about allowing questions to be asked and dwelling in the space that is created as a result. I think that I will return to this book in the future, it doesn’t feel like I have finished with it yet, nor it with me.
Gunnar Staalesen has been writing Varg Veum crime novels since 1977 and We Shall Inherit the Wind, originally published in 2010 and now translated into English for Orenda Books, is the 18th instalment, so the pedigree is there and this latest release from the Orenda stable demands a wider audience for an author described as one of the fathers of Nordic Noir.
Veum himself is an endearing and complex private investigator and his first person narrative draws the reader into his life and thoughts. It doesn’t matter that this was my first sitting at Staalesen’s creative table, the novel stands on its own as a complete and engrossing read, but such is the quality that it creates a thirst for more and it is incredible that only a few of the series have previously been translated into English.
On this occasion he is hired to investigate the disappearance of a successful businessman, Mons Maeland, who on the verge of completing a major deal to build a wind farm has seemingly had a change of heart courtesy of his activist daughter. The deal is at a key stage and there are a string of people on both sides who are determined to win the argument, so when Maeland finally turns up dead there are plenty of suspects.
Veum drives the investigation forward, uncovering secrets, ruffling feathers and revealing the true natures and complex relationships of the assembled cast of characters. We know from the start that this isn’t going to be an easy case. Veum’s girlfriend lies in a hospital bed in the opening pages as he recounts the steps of his investigation , analysis and ultimately errors of judgment. The stakes are clearly high and as the plot twists and turns we are led to wonder who could be capable of the disquieting violence both unfolding and to come.
The characters and settings are brilliantly drawn and the novel pulls you in so that you keep turning the pages and race to the conclusion. By the time the truth is revealed and you are returned to Karin’s bedside in hospital you are willing her to survive, crying out for her to wake up and embrace whatever future might unfold for her and Varg Veum.
This isn’t just a crime novel that you pick up, read and then cast aside. It is a life that you have been given a glimpse of so that you want to see more. Oh for the opportunity to sit opposite Varg Veum, a bottle of aquavit set between us, to hear more of his tales. Fortunately, Orenda Books have anticipated this need with two further novels in the pipeline for release in 2016 and 2017 respectively and hopefully a long partnership to come between author, publisher and the charismatic private investigator Varg Veum.
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