Today it is my absolute pleasure to be one of the blog tour stops celebrating the release of Wolves in the Dark, the latest UK release in the Varg Veum series by Gunnar Staalesen. Although this is the seventh book to be translated into English, this is the first one I have read, and can I already see what a grave error I have made thus far. My hat is very much off to Don Bartlett who has done a seamless job of translating the novel.
Before I share my review with you, let’s see what this book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
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.
Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Wolves in the Dark reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.
This book has left me in somewhat of a quandary. A good quandary, but a quandary nonetheless. Actually, I lie. It has left me with two. The first, and possibly most pressing, is how in the heck I can go back and catch up on the six books currently in translation that I have missed so far without taking a good bit of time off work. The second, less pressing I’ll admit, is quite how in the heck I have come to like the character of Varg Veum so darned quickly, especially as, upon the first time of meeting him, he is being arrested for child pornography and paedophilia. You have to admit, these are not normally traits one would manage to overlook and certainly not typically viewed sympathetically when assessing whether or not to like a character.
And yet… well I really did like Varg. Very much. He’s a man extremely down on his luck and yet trying to turn his life around. Having suffered greatly following the loss of his partner, he sank into a state of drunkenness and despair, and it is this very fact which comes back to haunt him so overwhelmingly in Wolves In The Dark. He is in a new relationship, one threatened by his arrest, and it seems even his old allies within the police are turning against him, the evidence so overwhelmingly in the Prosecution’s favour. And it is Varg’s attempt to make sense of this mess, to find the root cause of his problems, which provides to us the very compelling and twisted plot of the story.
Now I’m not going to say too much more about the plot as there are so many threads woven together that I can’t possibly touch upon them without perhaps giving the game away. But let’s just say the situation is very grave, not helped by Varg’s decision to flee incarceration at the first opportunity. But this is one of the many things I liked about the character. The way in which he acts upon impulse and follows his hunches. He is perhaps not always the most successful P.I. I have encountered in fiction, not helped by the Akvavit to be fair, but he certainly has a way about him that, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, makes me trust him from the off.
I really loved the pacing of this book, not fast or flashy but deliberate and considered. However it was no less tense or compelling and the structure, short chapters, high content of dialogue, serves to keep it moving along nicely. And this is no bad thing as it is not necessarily a story or plot which you would wish to dwell on too long. This is a very dark read in that it is a story of abuse, of both adults and children, but it is clearly the child abuse which will hit home the hardest. Some people might struggle with the subject matter and it is not always easy to read as. Although not overtly graphic, Staalesen does not shy away from giving the cold hard facts either. Which is why I was a little confused about how I felt about the book. On one hand, the writing is brilliant and the character of Varg is one I know that I will only grow to like even more – your classic flawed PI, certainly at this stage in his career. However, I don’t like the subject matter. But, sad as it is, this kind of thing, grooming, abuse, however you wish to define it, and the people who indulge in it, exist. Not writing about it doesn’t make it go away. And this book isn’t totally about the act itself, but the impact upon those engaging in it, or, in some cases, being made to appear as though they are.
There are a vast array of characters in this book, and clearly some of them have been met before in the previous novels. (This is technically the 21st book published although only 7 are currently translated into English). However, I didn’t feel like I struggled to read the book or that I had missed any significant knowledge by not having read the others first. It did make me want to go back and read the rest though so now I just have to figure out how to make that a reality. But then the ending… Well that’s at the very least made certain I am going to be first in the queue to buy the next book.
The sense of setting, of place, of character, that I drew from this novel was superb. It is no wonder that Staalesen has had such a prolific career and is heralded as a true statesman of Nordic Noir. His writing is truly masterful; careful crafted and honed over forty years of writing, and Staalesen has created, for me, one of the most immediately compelling and intriguing characters I have read this year. It may not be one for the easily offended, but if you like a gritty story with a hard and jaded private investigator as the lead, then I would definitely recommend you take a look at this book, if not the series. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
My thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and for providing an advance copy of Wolves in the Dark for review. It is released in paperback on 15th June and is available from the following retailers.
About the Author
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 Epsen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen with his wife. When Prince Charles visited Bergen, Staalesen was appointed his official tour guide. There is a life-sized statue of Varg Veum in the centre of Bergen, and a host of Varg Veum memorabilia for sale. We Shall Inherit the Wind and Where Roses Never Die were both international bestsellers.
Don Bartlett is the foremost translator of Norwegian, responsible for the multaward- winning, bestselling books by Jo Nesbo, Karl Ove Knausgaard and Per Pettersen. It is rare to have a translator who is as well-known and highly regarded as the author.
Be sure to stop by some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for more reviews, interviews and features.