I occasionally wonder if authors of long-running series anticipate new readers with every book or assume that at some point they are writing for existing fans only. I wonder this because as a reader I am generally reluctant to break into a series that has hit double-digits long before I have read a single volume. There is, after all, just so much I can never know unless I go back to the beginning. But, being determined to read the shortlist for this year’s Petrona Award, I decided to have a go at the 19th book featuring Norwegian private investigator Varg Veum even though I’ve not read any of its predecessors.
I did not immediately warm to the book’s central character and it’s because I suspect that was due to me never having ‘met’ him before that I was once again pondering the curly issue of the different kinds of readers authors have to consider. As a pretty dedicated fan of the genre I have come across many alcoholic misanthropes in the guise of detectives so was both jaded and resigned when encountering yet another one. There was enough back story provided here for me to glean the man was grieving the death of a girlfriend/wife several years ago but not quite enough to make me terribly interested in his aquavit-inspired stupors. And Staalesen’s models for his character are closer to the American, hard-boiled detective than my favourite fictional sleuths ever are. That said, by the end of the novel Veum’s determination and humour did earn my grudging admiration if not my undying love.
Everything else about the book was terrific, particularly the story. Veum is asked by Maja Misvær to investigate the disappearance of her 3 year old daughter Mette. The child disappeared while playing in front of the suburban family home on a seemingly ordinary day in 1977. Nearly 25 years later the statute of limitations on the crime is all but expired but Maja Misvær is actually prompted to contact Veum when she hears that one of the men who was a neighbour at the time of her daughter’s disappearance was killed by jewellery store robbers fleeing the scene of their own crime. Soon, she worries, anyone who knows anything will be gone and she may have forever lost the chance to learn what happened to her daughter. This kind of cold case is always intriguing – there are probably few readers who don’t know of some local missing persons case that has gone unsolved – and Staalesen does a great job of peeling away the layers of secrecy that might easily build up in any group of people and result in an impossible to predict disaster.
The Misvær family home is part of a small co-op, built by a well-known architect in the mid-70’s and this device provides both the suspect pool for the disappearance as well as offering an interesting way to comment on Norwegian society during this time period. In what seems like a series of utterly futile visits to each of the families who lived in the co-op when Mette disappeared (some are still there, some have moved away) Veum painstakingly teases out snippets that show what was being displayed to the world was not the whole truth about everyone’s lives. I think if I’d read a lot of this kind of thing when I was younger I might have scoffed at the lunacy being expected to believe people would hid such things even in the face of such obvious need to reveal the whole truth but that would have been due to my own youthful ignorance. I’m a little wiser now and I know that people keep all kinds of secrets for all kinds of reasons and I found this aspect of the book tantalisingly realistic. I also found myself wanting to stick up for our hero even though he wasn’t destined to be one of my all-time favourite sleuths. He solves two major crimes during the course of the novel and on both occasions police were very dismissive of his efforts and claim he stumbled across the solutions. Maybe so but an entire police force didn’t seem capable of solving either crime.
I even got a surprise with the resolution of WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE which topped off a great reading experience for me. So I feel I must offer thanks to all of those who played a key role in providing this for me which in addition to Gunnar Staalesen includes the excellent translator Don Bartlett and English actor Colin Mace who was the terrific narrator of the audio version I listened to.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Colin Mace
Translator Don Bartlett
Publisher This edition Audible studios 2016 (original edition 2015?)
Length 8 hours 26 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #19 in the Varg Veum series (though only 7 have been translated into English so far)
Source of review copy I bought it