Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on Bitter Flowers, the latest Varg Veum book in translation, written by Gunnar Staalesen and translated by Don Bartlett. I loved catching up on this series last year and finding out more about Varg is always a pleasure. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invite to join the tour. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when a challenging assignment arrives on his desk.
A man is found dead in an elite swimming pool and a young woman has gone missing. Most chillingly, Varg Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.
As the threads of these apparently unrelated crimes come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Varg Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.
Oh it is good to be back in the company of Varg Veum. Gunnar Staalesen has created a series that is full of mystery and challenge, with great characters, and a narrative that always takes us to the heart of the story and makes us feel as though we are walking along side Veum as he navigates the increasingly perplexing investigations. Brought to life by a beautiful and seamless translation by Don Bartlett, no matter which book you pick up you will find yourself transported, through time and space, to Veum’s Norway, with a sense of place that is second to none.
Although the stories are always typically centred around a single inciting event, there is often a topical, socially relevant element to the stories that Gunnar Staalesen creates. Bitter Flowers is no different. As the story opens we find Veum at a pivotal moment in his life, fresh out of rehab and fighting his reliance upon his good friend, ‘Aquavit’. Whilst not fully back in his investigative saddle, he is offered a chance to work as a house sitter, a nice simple task that should apply no undue pressure. That is until the discovery of a dead body in the home he is to look after, and the subsequent disappearance of the person who arranged it all. Veum is soon embroiled in a murder investigation, for which he is sure to be a suspect. Being the inquisitive chap he is, Veum cannot help but look into the life of the victim, bringing up a surprising connection to a missing child case from some years before. Not only that, he find himself at the door of the victims employer, a company under suspicion of serious environmental crimes. How the two different threads tie back to the murder victim is cannily and carefully probed, the intertwining of these separate threads taking us, as readers, in a surprising and often threatening direction.
I love the sense of mystery that permeates the story. As the book is told in first person, from Veum’s perspective, we discover truths at the same time as Veum. I love the matter of fact style of his narration, conversational and still challenging, both of himself and of others. We are privy to his personal struggles and the way in which that affects his investigations. We see his limitations, but also his determination. It also leaves us with no room for doubt about his innocence or guilt in the murder investigation, meaning we can simply try and piece together the clues as Veum uncovers them. I have to be honest, I didn’t see this one coming at all, the reasons for the murder, or the unfortunate turn of events which came to pass. There is an air of tragedy from the very first page of this book, some acutely observed emotions and a varied cast of characters who will both delight and frustrate in equal measure. I loved seeing the progression of Veum’s relationship with Karen, but also the tender and understanding way that he dealt with his new found friendship with his ‘flower girl’ Siv.
This is a story packed with emotion, for many reasons, one in which we learn more about the fragility of Veum’s own character, the underlying mystery of a child long missing, and the tragedy of promising young woman whose future is cut short by a tragic accident. It is part environmental statement, part murder mystery, but completely enthralling. Bearing in mind that this story is taking us back into Veum’s past, it is fascinating to see the progression of his character. With all of Gunnar Staalesen’s hallmark storytelling, that real authentic PI vibe, and a mixture of deception, tension and the occasional flash of high threat action, as a fan of the series, I am left feeling very satisfied.
About the Author
One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, 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 titles, which have been published in twenty-four 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 Espen Seim. Staalesen has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour). Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for Nordic Crime Fiction, and Big Sister was shortlisted for the award in 2019. He lives with his wife in Bergen.
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