I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Varg Veum as part of my Year of Orenda catch up and so one of my targets this years was to read the back catalogue of titles translated into English, beginning with the first, Yours Until Death. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
An unbearably tense novel of revenge, murder, bereavement and the destructive force of passion. First published in Norwegian in 1979, it was described by the critic Nils Nordberg as ‘one of the finest, most serious, most ambitious books in post-war Norwegian crime writing’. The single-mother families of the isolated community under the shadow of the Pyderhorn, Bergen’s greatest mountain, are being terrorised by a teenage gang. But teenage violence is nothing compared to what awaits detective Varg Veum when he gets to know the blue-eyed Wenche Andersen.
Yours Until Death is the first English translation of the Varg Veum series that you will find and it is a book which showcases the Private Investigator to his compassionate, caring, seless, Aquavit drinking best. This is a man who gives almost selflessly to his clients, who has a faith in their character and a determination to push for the truth and what is right, no matter the risk to himself along the way. This is never more evident than when he meets his new ‘client’, eight year old Roar who has seeks his help to retrieve his bike which has been stolen by a group of thugs from the estate he lives on. Roar is scared of what the gang will do if it is left to his mother to get it back, and, as Varg discovers, it is with good reason. Far from a simple case of retrieving a stolen bike, Varg find himself drawn into the world of Roar and his mother Wenche Andersen, with surprising and tragic consequences.
It is hard to say much about the book without giving away too much. of the plot, but I really did enjoy getting to see this earlier snapshot of Varg Veum and his life, both in and out of the business side of things. Varg is a very complicated character, a former Child Services employee, he is very particular about the kinds of cases he takes, but he is also a man driven by his heart and his compassion. When he takes on Roar’s case, you know that it is as much about ensuring the child remains safe as it is about expecting any kind of reimbursement of expenses. He is kind, but he is haunted. He is also not a man averse to having his head turned by a pretty face, and Wenche Andersen is someone who catches his eye straight away. He has an understanding of what makes people tick, but he is not infallible and he is as capable of misjudgement as any other. But he. is a character I like, and, over indulgence in Aquavit not withstanding, he is someone you can trust.
Gunnar Staalesen does a brilliant job in setting the scene within his writing. You get a real sense of place and of atmosphere, and the kind of oppressive nature of the tower block apartments that Wenche and Roar live in, that sense of desperation and of avoidance that comes hand in hand with the residents studiously minding their own business. There is no community spirit and that solitude, the helplessness that some of the residents, women and children in particular, feel in the presence of the gang, adds a kind of desolation to the story. This is more than just a story about a gang though, with a complex and tragic story of a family unit which has separated, examining the idea of love verses duty, and how far people would go to protect either.
This is not a fast paced story. None of the books in the series are, but there is a slow evolving tension and a real sense of mystery that bubbles underneath, holding my attention and keeping me completely invested in the characters. I really liked the character of Roar, felt so much for his plight, his concern for his mother and his fear about what is happening on his estate, that seeing Varg championing him, standing for the underdog even when the odds are not in his favour, really drew me into the story. As an introduction to Varg, this book would make me all the more interested in learning about him, on what drew him to his new career and what pushed him from his old one. As a catch up on a character I already know and love, this is just filling in the gaps and helping me build an even stronger affinity for him.
Beautifully written, and extremely thoughtful, if this is your first introduction to the series, you are in for a real treat.
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.