Today it is my great pleasure to take part in the blog tour for Big Sister the latest book in the Varg Veum series by Gunnar Staalesen. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the tour and to publisher Orenda books for providing an adanve copy of the book. I have an extract of the book to share with you all in just a moment, after we’ve taken a look at what it’s all about.
About the Book
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…
Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Big Sister reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.
I have never believed in ghosts. The mature woman who came to my office on that wan November day was no ghost, either. But what she told me awakened something I had long repressed and opened the door to a darkened attic of family secrets whose existence I had never suspected. From behind my desk I sat staring at her, as I would have done if she really had been just that: a ghost.
2003 had been a volatile year in all ways. I had barely escaped the heavy hand of the law the previous September when the builders started to knock down walls around me. The hotel that had originally occupied the two top floors had now taken over the whole building, and a massive renovation programme was in full swing. With a heavy heart, the hotel director had accepted my old contract with the property owner, which stipulated my right to have an office on the premises for as long as I was running my business. But during the rebuilding phase I had to move out. Until the reopening in May I had worked from a so- called ‘home office’, a corner of my sitting room in Telthussmuget. I had never invited clients home. Most of them I met at various cafés and eat- eries in town and round about. It had given me an involuntary overview of the quality of coffee served in this region. With a few notable excep- tions it was one I could have foregone. I was as black as pitch internally and as nervous as a novice priest at a Black Metal Fest in hell. And, even after several days of twitchy abstinence, this nervousness wasn’t relinquishing its hold.
When I got my office back in May it was still in the same place, four flights of stairs up from the street, but I had lost my waiting room. It had become a hotel bedroom, and my office was now in a corridor in which you had to strain your eyes to find the door that led, if you came on the right day, to where I resided. The waiting room wasn’t a serious loss. As the years had passed it had been of less and less use. I had never walked past without a quick look at the sofa, though, to check if there was another corpse lying there. For those wishing to see me now there were some sofas in the hotel foyer, where the changing pool of desk staff now had the additional dubious role as my receptionists.
They hadn’t done anything to my office. But it still took me a week to tidy up, during which time I took the opportunity to dispose of old crime cases and sort out my filing cabinet. When I had finished this I celebrated by purchasing another bottle of Taffel aquavit, which I carefully placed in the bottom left-hand desk drawer, where the Simers family had traditionally held sway for as long as I’d had the legal right to this office.
In many ways I was content with the result. I had the same office; it was only its environment that had changed. The address was still Strandkai 2, third floor. Everyone was welcome to bring whatever they had on their minds. It took a lot to surprise me. Unless they came from Haugesund and said they were my sister.
I first became aware of Gunnar Staalesen and Varg Veum when I was offered the chance to review Wolves in the Dark last year. Despite a very dark storyline and Veum being accused of some very objectionable things, he was a character I grew to like very much and very quickly. When I saw this latest book was due for release I banged in my pre-order without hesitation and, having devoured the book in less than a day, I made a very wise choice.
As you can read from the extract, the story sees out hero being visited by his estranged half sister, Norma. She is not seeking him out for a family reunion, rather to request his services as a Private Investigator to locate her god-daughter, Emma, who has not been seen in weeks having left her former residence in Bergen in somewhat of a hurry. This is a very difficult case for Veum, not least because during his investigations he learns some uncomfortable facts about his own family, but also because, somehow, Emma has vanished without a trace. Similarly to Veum and Norma, Emma’s childhood was a difficult one but could this and her estranged father hold the key to her disappearance?
As investigations go, missing persons cases are often the hardest to crack and potentially the slowest in terms of action. This would seem to the case in this book as Veum finds it hard to get witnesses to be honest with him and the more he looks into the case, the more secrets he uncovers and the further from a resolution he appears to be. Yet this is not how it feels when you are reading. For me, inspite of the lack of progress, the plot moved along at a rapid pace and there always seemed to be something happening and some truth lying partially buried with just enough by way of tantilising clues on show to keep the reader hooked.
There are moments of high tension and drama in this book, sections where you can cut the atmosphere with a knife, where Veum is in deep jeopardy with no clear indicator as to how he may over come it. This is where Staalesen’s true skill lies. In creating an absolute sense of peril without actually having to resort to any great moments of violence on the page. He creates such an idea of setting, such perfect pacing in his prose, that it is not necessary. Just those small inflections, the tiny elements of emotion or feeling that he injects into the narrative which create the pulse quickening tension. And the sense of place, the descriptions of setting, are just about perfect, making it so easy to picture the scene as you read.
Now there are some difficult topics touched upon in this story, not in any gratuitous way, but it does reference sexual assualt and other sensitive subjects. Those are the hard moments to read, where you can feel the emotion behind the words, with just enough detail to paint the picture necessary to move the story onward. And while you may be able to guess where the investigation is leading, there is still enough in here to surprise and outwit the reader. Things are not as straight forward as they may at first appear, believe me.
This is another brilliant read, full of the atmosphere that I loved about the last book, an honest look at complicated family situations and the impact that they can have upon those at the heart of the story.
Big Sister 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. Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award.
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