This Norwegian investigation started off brilliantly. Private eye Varg Veum is ensnared in a savage trap, one sprung by his own degeneracy. During a period of emotional turmoil, Veum descended into the broke and barely-functioning chaos of an alcoholic binge which lasted several years.
Now in recovery, with the promise of a stable relationship on the horizon, he has to face the consequences of what he did during that time. The half-assed cases which he cocked up. The debts he owes. The enemies he made. But worst of all – the abuse he’s accused of inflicting on underage innocents.
So the set-up is superb. Veum’s in a police cell, desperately recalling the seemingly unconnected and often sleazy jobs he took at his lowest ebb. We’re treated to series of squalid gumshoe episodes – debt collection, illicit affairs, intimate encounters in ‘private clubs’ – as he pieces the mystery together. Veum has offended someone to the extent that they’ve framed him with the worst type of pornography. But who might it be, and who has the technical ability?
As ever, Staalesen’s writing is packed with details of Bergen and life in rural Norway. The opening chapters are as stylish as ever, making Veum’s fall from grace an entirely believable descent into despair.
But as the story develops, it becomes somewhat unwieldy and overly complex, losing much of the poetry of the prose in the process. There are simply too many disparate threads and red herrings, and it stretches credibility that so many cases could so neatly overlap. The second half of the book is something of a slog, an occasionally uncomfortable juxtaposition of a large cast of characters from the criminal underworld of Bergen’s red light district, to the high-tech towers of corrupt corporations.
At the end, I didn’t buy the bad guys’ supposed motivation for setting up the detective – and I’m pretty sure that the hotshot computer hacker would have done more to protect himself and incriminate Veum while he attempted to evade the law.
Despite my misgivings, I still found myself galloping through the pages to see how Veum might exonerate himself, solve the mystery and nail the bad guys. This might not be my favourite VV story (that would be We Shall Inherit The Wind), but Wolves proved to be powerful enough to keep me hanging on in there – and I’ll happily pick up the next of Staalesen’s series when Don Bartlett translates it. If this is your first encounter with Varg Veum, however, I suspect you might find Where Roses Never Die a more fulfilling and accessible experience.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Wolves In The Dark by Gunnar Staalesen is available in multiple formats at Amazon
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