A Year of Orenda – Fallen Angels by Gunnar Staalesen (translated by Don Bartlett)

Today I am delighted to finally be able to share my thoughts on Fallen Angels by Gunnar Staalesen, the latest Varg Veum novel. Well … I say latest, but in truth, this really takes readers right back to the beginning as we meet Varg very early on in his career. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for including me in the tour and to publisher Orenda Books who provided an advance copy of the book for review. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy

About the Book

When Bergen PI Varg Veum finds himself at the funeral of a former classmate on a sleet-grey December afternoon, he’s unexpectedly reunited with his old friend Jakob – the once-famous lead singer of 1960s rock band The Harpers – and his estranged wife, Rebecca, Veum’s first love.

Their rekindled friendship come to an abrupt end with a horrific murder, and Veum is forced to dig deep into his own adolescence and his darkest memories, to find a motive … and a killer.

Tense, vivid and deeply unsettling, Fallen Angels is the spellbinding, award-winning thriller that secured Gunnar Staalesen’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost crime writers.

My Thoughts

Fallen Angels takes readers back to where it all began for Varg Veum, to a point where he is forced to face his childhood, and to confront feelings from his past. This is a sometimes difficult story to read, the implications of everything that Varg learns over the course of his investigation unpalatable, but handled in a careful way that protects readers from the worst of the truth.

We meet Varg as he is attending the funeral of an old school friend, bringing him face to face with people from his past with whom he has a very complex relationship. His old friend Jakob also happens to be the person who married the first woman that Varg ever loved, Rebecca. As it turns out, the funeral that Varg attends will not be the last and as another of his old friends dies, it is up to him to discover if there is a reason behind this.

Much of the novel is given over to setting the scene, to introducing us to the main characters and the dynamic between them, moving often between the present and Varg’s memories of the past. Gunnar Staalesen does a brilliant job of recreating not only the present day, or at least mid-eighties Bergen, as well as the Bergen of the sixties and seventies, exploring Varg’s first feelings of love and infatuation and his relationship with both his family and religion, something that he lives on the periphery of through his friendship with Rebecca.

There is a slow building tension in this book, a kind of underlying threat that you can feel but that rarely reaches the surface. The more we learn about the band, about their twisted friendships and the jealousies that developed, the more you realise that there may be creedence in Varg’s assertion the deaths of his friends are anything but accidental. The investigation leads Varg, and the reader, so some dark places, many of which are still topical even if the story is set in the mid-eighties. That whole idea of the perception of women, that to be outgoing or, heaven-forbid, provocative, may be a signal of promiscuity and an invitation to the men in. their lives to act upon their own fantasies, is one that is all too recognizable and all too real.

It is unsettling to read at times, but still portrayed in a way that is both sensitive to the victim and also chillingly authentic. While everything takes place off the page, there is no doubting what has happened and Varg’s reaction to it serves only to make him all the more human and, perhaps, been more endearing. It has always been clear that Varg has a real empathy for the victims, but never more so than in the course of this book. The author has done a brilliant job in conveying Varg’s inner turmoil, that conflict that exists between his need to see justice done and the understanding of who the true victims are in this story.

This is not a fast paced book, the investigation difficult and the forays into Varg’s past take away any urgency that may ordinarily surround the kinds of threats Varg perceives to his friends. And yet it works beautifully, suiting the style of the story and the deliberate nature of Varg’s persona. I have loved this trip down memory lane with Varg, appreciated getting to know more about the events that shaped the investigator we know today. It is a story full of mystery, of uncertainty and threat, but overwhelmingly of emotion, a thoughtful look at how events of the past can inform and shape the future, and of the devastating impact of the abusive and destructive relationships that surround Varg and his friends. It may be closing a chapter in Varg’s life, but you know it is one that will inform much of his future.

A truly thought provoking read and definitely recommended.

About the Author

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty-three titles, which have been published in twenty-six countries and sold over five million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim, and a further series is currently being filmed. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour) and the Petrona Award, and been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger, lives in Bergen with his wife.

Follow the tour:

Books by Gunnar Staalesen

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