Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen

where-roses-never-dieWhen you pick up a novel by Gunnar Staalesen you know that you are dealing with a professional. His private investigator Varg Veum has been solving crimes since the 1970’s and the author leads you through his investigation with the expertise of a well-practised hand. The biggest crime here is that English language readers have been largely denied the pleasure of his work up to now.

The first person narrative, which perhaps in part inspired Jo Nesbo’s description of the author as a Norwegian Chandler, puts us right into the mind of the detective and at the start of this second novel from Orenda Books that is a pretty dark place. Veum is dealing with grief, badly. For three years since the devastating events of We Shall Inherit the Wind the aquavit has taken a grim hold and drinking has become a way of life, so it will take a pretty special case to draw him out of the darkness and back to work.

Maja Misvær has just the sort of story to tempt him back. It is nearly 25 years since her daughter Mette disappeared from the community project where they lived. Since that day the community has largely unravelled and Maja herself has been tormented. With the statute of limitations date fast approaching when the legal aspects of the case will expire she wants to make one last desperate attempt to find the truth. But how can a PI with an alcohol monkey clinging to his back hope to find the answers that eluded the police all those years ago?

There is a line in the book where Veum says “I talk to a lot of people” and this holds the key to his work. Each conversation releases another little piece of information and leads to another question for another person. Gradually a story unfolds as Staalesen gives you hints that have you working ahead looking for the solution but always a step behind his protagonist. His art is to reveal just enough to keep you chasing your own conclusion whilst throwing in twists that have you questioning what you really know.

The intersections of lives are handled brilliantly as Veum moves through the cast of residents and builds up a frightening picture of dark secrets and unintended consequences. No one is entirely free from deceit and as they each try to shift suspicion to another the secrets start to seep out. It is a huge leap from a few supressed regrets to committing a crime that plays right into the fears of any parent though, so who is hurting so bad that they can close their eyes to the horror they are committing?

This is the second Varg Veum novel from Orenda books and already he has established himself as a favourite leading character. Staalesen has created a sharp and intelligent but also vulnerable PI with whom the reader builds a strong rapport. The end of We Shall Inherit the Wind was a devastating blow to both parties and Where Roses Never Die is a shared recovery. Whilst many of the authors in the Orenda stable are embarking on relatively new careers Staalesen is an expert of his craft and once again he has delivered an absorbing mystery expertly solved by his endearing PI, Varg Veum.

 

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We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen

We Shall Inherit the Wind BF AW.inddGunnar 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.

Varg Veumcomp

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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