Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the last of my Varg Veum catch up reads – Cold Hearts by Gunnar Staalesen. I’ve loved learning a little more about Varg’s past and encountering some of the cases that have shaped his past and look forward to reading more of him in the future. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
On a frosty January day in Bergen, Private Detective Varg Veum is visited by a prostitute. Her friend Margrethe has disappeared and hasn’t been seen for days. Before her disappearance, something had unsettled her: she’d turned away a customer and returned to the neighbourhood in terror. Shortly after taking the case, Veum is confronted with a brutal, uneasy reality.
He soon finds the first body – and it won’t be the last either. His investigation leads him into a dark subculture where corrupted idealism has had deadly consequences.
Not going to lie, I’m a little sad that I’ve caught up on all of the Varg Veum books now. I do need to give a little shout out to Colin Mace who has been the narrator for much of my journey as, like with the Orenda Books titles, I’ve actually listened to as much as read the books. Excellent narration that really brings the character of Varg to life, capturing his turmoil and his determination, as well as his fears, perfectly.
Once again we see Varg being engaged in a case that your average Private Investigator would turn away from – the disappearance of a local sex worker. Some would argue that it’s almost an occupational hazard, the inherent risk that they are exposed to, and therefore there is possibly little case to answer, but Varg has an unexpected personal link to this case, and when he starts to dig a little deeper it is clear that this is exactly the kind of case you would expect for find him knee deep in.
The story follows on quite quickly from the events in the previous book, Consorts of Death, so it is easy to understand Varg’s apprehension. But this is more than a simple missing persons case and his investigations take him back into Margrethe’s dark and complex past, a complicated and tragic childhood that impacted not only her but her siblings. Gunnar Staalesen deftly explores the whole history of a community who were determined to offer their very unique kind of help to the three children and the way in which that informs their futures. It is not always easy to read, the implications of the narrative quite clear, and as much as I expected a little of what came to pass, it was still shocking, the ultimate discovery one which took me by surprise. It is sensitively and not gratuitously handled, but there is no escaping the darker side of this story and also the sadness that accompanies it.
Now being a story involving prostitution, the book draws readers into some pretty murky circles, and the threat which is ever present to Vary and those who he approaches for help adds a layer of tension and jeopardy to an already dark tale. I wouldn’t have blamed Varg for walking away, he’s given plenty of reasons to do just that, but then that is what makes him such a great and loveable character. His sense of right and wrong is always greater than his sense of fear or, seemingly, self preservation. He’s a very lucky guy sometimes, but he really does sail close to the wind and I imagine it would be very hard for him to get life insurance ….
Gunnar Staalesen has created such a brilliant character in Varg – a blend of social justice warrior and world weary cynicism – and I really look forward to each new story. He is a man with real heart who you want to see succeed, even if not all of his stories can have a happy ending. In fact there is an almost inherent sense of tragedy about the books sometimes that I felt like I was steeling myself for bad news from the start. Another fab read in a series I really enjoy. Although, as well as he describes the surroundings and creates an ultimate sense of place, I’m not convinced he’s really sold me on a visit to Bergen any time soon … Too dangerous!😳
About the Author
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 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over two million copies. Twelves 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. Cold Hearts, Yours Until Death, The Consorts of Death, and The Writing on the Wall are all published in English by Arcadia Books.