Quite by coincidence I’m writing this review of Nordic noir thriller Wolves in the Dark by Norway’s legendary Gunnar Staalesen shortly after a particularly intense trek with my Friday Nordic walking group.
Appropriate really because this latest instalment of Staalesen’s long-running Bergen-based Varg Veum series is equally intense, with a brutal plot and at least one genuine sharp intake of breath moment.
As the novel opens, Veum, who debuted in 1977 in the bizarrely titled The Buck to the Sack of Oats, is still reeling from the death of his great love Karin.
He’s struggling with alcoholism and has descended into a self-destructive spiral of lust, grief and blackouts.
In fact, for anyone like me, meeting him for the first time, he is neither likeable nor particularly sympathetic.
And, when traces of child pornography are found on his computer and he’s arrested and accused of being part of a paedophile ring, it’s not clear he’s as innocent as he claims.
Even Veum begins to wonder if he might be guilty?
But slowly, as he struggles to sift through his disjointed memories to try and work out who has framed him and why, the real Veum emerges – an ordinary, decent bloke, pole-axed by a personal tragedy.
Only now he’s paying the price of those lost years – somewhere along the way he crossed the wrong person, who is now seeking the ultimate revenge.
First though Veum, who’s being held in custody, needs to get out of prison…
His opportunistic cell break was a grip-the-page moment.
So, too his first jail break call to new girlfriend Sølvi, who has been helping him re-build his life.
But will she believe he’s innocent?
Will she help him stay one step ahead of the police?
And will he track down the real crooks behind the paedophile ring?
This is a tightly, expertly written, thrillingly satisfying tale – as you’d expect from a writer who has been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies worldwide.
Staalesen is especially popular in his native Norway – there’s a life-sized statue of Varg Veum in the centre of Bergen and there have been 12 film adaptations of the novels starring Norwegian actor Tron Epsein Seim.
Sure to change
Both Staalesen and Veum, who reminds me a little of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, are less well known in the UK.
But that’s sure to change – Wolves in the Dark will shine a great big light on the pair.
Now, I just need to get hold of a copy of the weirdly-named series opener.
Review by Sue Featherstone.
Available to buy on Amazon.