Varg Veum (lit: Lone Wolf) is a private investigator in the classic mould - the direct descendant of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and (perhaps most of all) Lew Archer, he's a cynical operator who retains a stubbornly compassionate streak despite everything he's seen. Immensely popular in Staalesen's native Norway (there's even a statue of the character erected in the city of Bergen) he's only recently begun to catch the attention of British readers, and with good reason.
Wolves in the Dark is the latest of the Varg Vuem novels, sympathetically translated into English by the excellent Don Bartlett, and published by the "literary crime" indie publisher Orenda Books, and it is possibly one of the finest yet. Still suffering from the loss of his love, Karn, Veum has been continuing to work as a private investigator even as he spirals into alcohol-fuelled blackouts and a highly risky personal life. But then traces of child pornography are found on his computer. Veum knows he's innocent, but his recent behaviour has left gaps in his memory that he can't account for.
Determined to prove his innocence, Veum must retrace his steps to find the people who would want to frame him for such a horrendous crime, but he soon realises the answers he seeks may be even more troubling than he ever suspected...
Staaelesen's prose, as translated by Bartlett, gives this Norwegian thriller a unique voice that eschews the soul-searching of some of his contemporaries for a more active and immediate kind of story-telling. Comparisons to Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer novels are decidedly deserved here, as the Veum novels are both page-turning and deeply personal. There's a nice line in subtle humour, too, that only reinforces this sense of Veum's classic heritage. There's a hint of Chandler that sneaks in when being Veum is being taken back to his cell early in the novel:
"...I took the lift back down to Hades. I wondered if I should look for a coin or two to place on my eyes, then I remembered all my small change had been taken from me earlier in the day..."
Even if you think you've read everything Norwegian crime has to offer, Staalesen offers up something unique and gripping. The Varg Veum books respect the history of the US PI novel while adding a unique perspective to a familair formula. Vuem is a fascinating set of eyes through which to view the world, and this contemporary entry in a series which has been running in the seventies is proof of his longevity. Wolves in the Dark is gripping, playful, clever and unsettling. In short, its everything you could want from crime fiction in any language.
(Note: The book will be released 15 June 2017, and this review is based on a review copy supplied by the publishers)
Although I spend much of my time reading for edits rather than pleasure, I still try and fit in reading for fun. This occasional blog will record brief thoughts on some of the books I'm reading on my "off time"
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