I’m very pleased to share a guest post from Norwegian author Gunnar Staalesen today. His latest book featuring private detective Varg Veum, Where Roses Never Die, was published by Orenda Books on 1 June 2016 and you can order a copy here. I’ve just finished reading this and thought it was an excellent, satisfying slice of Scandi-crime. Varg Veum has been around for a long time, as you’ll read in the post below, but although this book is well on into the series, there was no problem reading it without knowing any of Varg’s background. He put me in mind of Inspector Rebus with his determination to solve the crime. In this book, he is investigating a cold case involving a missing child before the 25 year statute of limitations is reached. Staalesen has written a well-paced book which I was completely engaged with. I liked Varg despite his apparent lack of social skills and fondness for too much aquavit. Through his investigations, we get to know about all the neighbours of the missing girl and discover that there are plenty of secrets they are keen to keep. Seemingly unrelated incidents over the years all come together leading towards a fast-paced dramatic ending which still had me guessing what had gone on and who had been involved right up until the reveal. I would really like to find out more about Varg Veum both before this book and in his subsequent outings. Orenda Books – you will make a Nordic Noir fan of me yet!
So now onto the guest post: Gunnar Staalesen explains where his inspiration to create the character came from and asks who is the real Varg Veum?
The birth of Varg Veum
Where does a literary character come from? Does he (or she) have his (her) own life, or are they totally dependent on the writer who has created them?
My private detective, Varg Veum, saw the light of the day – on paper! – between 1976 and 1977. It was in 1976 I started to write the first novel that featured him (Bukken til havresekken in Norwegian, still not published in UK) (but in France as Le Loup dans la Bergérie), and it was published with great success in Norway in 1977. Since then, I have written 17 more Varg Veum thrillers, the latest one being published in Norway in September of this year. And there are some short stories about him to be found, too.
The inspiration for Varg Veum was, of course, the private eyes created by writers like Dashiell Hammett (Sam Spade), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe) and Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer), but I had also enjoyed reading books about private detectives by newer writers. However, despite these exceptional influences, Varg Veum was very much formed from my own heart, and he is in many ways a typical Norwegian from the 1970s and even today. He has grown older, of course, as we all do. In the first book he was 34, and my latest one in Norway he is 61. In Where Roses Never Die he is still a fairly young guy – around 59… He has followed me through almost 40 years, and I must say that he is one of my best friends. He is not me in any way, but I know how he thinks and how he reacts even better than I know myself sometimes.
And of course he has an ordinary biography, too. He was born on the 15 October 1942, when Norway was occupied by the Germans, and his birthplace was not far from where I spent my own childhood between 1953 and 1963, in the part of Bergen that is called Nordnes, a peninsular into the fjord that ends in the harbor of Bergen. He was the only child of his father and mother, and – according to my own trilogy about Bergen and Norway in the 20th Century, published in Norway between 1997 and 2000 – there are questions about who is father really is. Perhaps he isn’t the man with whom Varg Veum grew up, but a charming saxophone player who his mother met at a wedding in Haugesund, another Norwegian city that is south of Bergen. When my new Varg Veum novel, Storesøster (The Big Sister) is translated into English by Don Bartlett (published in 2018 by Orenda Books), you will learn more about that.
So who is the real Varg Veum? The one ‘born’ in 1976 or the one born in 1942? The one you meet in the films and TV series? The one you will find in the graphic novels published in Norway? The one you can meet in the radio adaptions, one of them in Ireland? The one they have made a sculpture of in central Bergen? Or the one in the books? You can guess what I will answer … And after that, you have to read the books.
From the back of the book
September 1977. Mette Misvaer, a three-year-old girl disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordas is devastated, but their enquiries and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found. Almost 25 years later, as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette’s mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge …Chilling, shocking and full of extraordinary twists and turns, Where Roses Never Die reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost crime writers.
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.