This Scandi detective story can be seen as the companion piece to the earlier Wolves In The Dark, and you should read that episode in the Varg Veum series before starting this one. Otherwise, it’s tricky to pick up the threads of the earlier story – which is convoluted enough – before you become embroiled in this complex tale of crime and conscience.
Wolves At The Door starts where most crime novels finish. Typically, the private eye recovers from his mental distress and alcoholic meltdown to resolve a mystery which the police can’t crack. He identifies the monstrous malefactors, brings them to justice, consoles the victim’s families and clears his name in the process. End of story. Except that in the real world there are consequences to every action – and stories go on long after crime novels draw to a close.
Author Gunnar Staalesen is considered one of the grand masters of Nordic noir and the scope of this long-running series gives him the flexibility to explore unusual aspects of the genre. Wolves considers the consequences of the worst kind of crime in a small community, somewhere as insular and tight-knit as Bergen in Norway. What if justice isn’t seen to be done, and the loathsome perpetrators get off with minimal sentences? Maybe someone might take the law into his own hands… and that certainly seems to be the case when a convicted paedophile conveniently ‘commits suicide’.
What follows is a thought-provoking examination of domestic conflict, the predators of the dark web, and how society struggles to support the survivors of unseen abuse. It’s a gritty and occasionally grim subject, but Staalesen prevents his protagonist’s innately melancholic nature turning to outright misery by his deft use of language. All praise to translator Don Bartlett for conserving the author’s pithy turn of phrase, for summing up a lifetime of experience in a single sharp sentence.
This isn’t a page-turning thriller – like much Scandi crime it’s a story that requires slow contemplation. For instance, Veum’s reckless dedication to his cause inevitably puts him in the firing line – and his actions also threaten the safety of the people he cares for. Yet he continues to prioritise the needs of the victims over the wellbeing of his closest companions… and pays the consequences.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Wolves At The Door by Gunnar Staalesen is available at Amazon