Gunnar Staalesen translated by Don Bartlett, June 2015, 300 pages, Orenda Books, ISBN: 1910633070
Reviewed by Ewa Sherman.
I’ve been a fan of a private investigator Varg Veum (meaning ‘wolf in a sanctuary’ in old Norwegian) for ages. I’ve read WRITING ON THE WALL and watched nine movies based on Gunnar Staalesen’s books. I was also incredibly lucky to visit Varg Veum’s Corner in a hotel bar in Bergen. Outside the guests are greeted by a life-sized statue of Bergen’s most famous literary creation. And so I could not wait to read WE SHALL INHERIT THE WIND by the Norwegian Raymond Chandler, superbly translated by Don Bartlett.
1998. Veum is sitting by the hospital bed of his fiancée Karin who is seriously injured, fighting for her life. Blaming himself for what happened to her, he reflects on the events that led to this tragic outcome. As the story unfolds we learn of his latest assignment, starting with Karin’s request to investigate the disappearance of a successful businessman Mons Maeland, reported missing by his wife Ranveig, Karin’s friend. When Veum and Karin visit distressed Ranveig in her lovely summer cottage by the sea, they also meet a family friend, Brekkhus, a retired policeman, friendly yet hardly volunteering any information. Brekkhus was involved in a search for Mons’ first wife Lea who had also vanished in suspicious circumstances without trace seventeen years earlier. Ex-child welfare worker and idealist at heart, Veum reluctantly agrees to find Mons and is slowly pulled into a complicated family drama where there is no love lost between Ranveig and Mons’ two grown-up children Kristoffer and Else. Also, Mons’ disappearance happens at the time when he had apparently scrapped his highly controversial plans to develop a wind farm on his own plot of a beautiful untouched island. The speculations are wild, Kristoffer and Else find themselves in opposite camps, and long buried personal secrets surface.
A deceptively straightforward investigation turns into a life-changing experience for Veum, propelling him into a world of religious fanaticism, big money and bold environmental activism, all coming to an explosive confrontation on Bergen's islands. Lives of all characters are affected.
Tenacious and persistent Varg is a complex character, existing on the outside of the prosperous society, crossing paths both with the police and the criminal ‘underworld’. He stubbornly searches for justice and truth for those most vulnerable. A classic lone PI Veum is flawed yet so human and passionate, and truly unforgettable.
Grippingly, WE SHALL INHERIT THE WIND brings together great characterisation, fast paced plot and social conscience. The writing style is superb. You can smell the wet wind and taste the coffee. You feel so strongly for the sad situation of Veum and Karin, and understand people’s motives.
The beauty of Staalesen’s writing and thinking is in the richness of interpretations on offer: poignant love story, murder investigation, essay on human nature and conscience, or tale of passion and revenge. I choose all options.
Two further titles in Varg Veum series will be published by Orenda Books, in 2016 - WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE, and in 2017 - NO ONE IS SAFE IN DANGER.
Ewa Sherman, October 2015