I’m delighted to be taking part in my first blog tour of the year for the new book in the Varg Veum series by Gunnar Staalesen, Bitter Flowers. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for offering me a place on the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially as always.
PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when three complex crimes land on his desk.
A man is found dead in an elite swimming pool. A young woman has gone missing. Most chillingly, Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.
As the threads of these three apparently unrelated cases come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.
What a fabulous way to start off the blogging year. This is my first Varg Veum novel, but it definitely won’t be the last one I read, as I was completely sucked in to his world.
Coming in to the series completely cold, it took me a little while to sort out what Varg’s situation was and who he was as a character, but that just made me more intrigued by the book. We are dropped straight into the action as there is the discovery of a corpse and a disappearance in the first couple of pages, and we are introduced to Varg’s fractious relationship with the local police in Bergen. In the best traditions of hard-boiled PIs, Varg can’t resist getting involved in situations that should really be left to the police and inveigles his way into the heart of the investigation, managing to get information that the police struggle to access, because he doesn’t have to do things by the book.
There were three particular aspects of this novel that particularly made this book stand out from a run-of-the-mill PI novel. The first was the intricacy and complexity of the plot. Taking the very topical issue of climate change and ecological protest as one of its central plot points, Gunnar weaves together two different crimes to make a story of such devious twistedness that I truly had no idea what was behind the crimes or who was the perpetrator at any point and I would never have got to the conclusion by myself in a million years. The author clearly has a mind like a fiendish labyrinth and how he managed to keep it all straight as he was writing is a skill I would like to learn. I think I need to go back and try and find all the clues I missed the first time now I know how it unravels.
The second aspect I loved was the writing. For a dark crime novel, the writing is utterly poetic. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book in this genre where the author manages to wax so lyrical about landscape, people and feelings and have it sit so naturally beside the darker aspects of the plot. It was a real pleasure to read, and made the book stand out for me as a literary cut above the herd.
Finally, and probably most appealing to me, was the beautiful evocation and exploration of the landscape of Norway. The book really brings it to life and it is fascinating to me as a country that is so vastly different to our own. A place of vast wilderness, where travel by ferry is as natural as taking a bus or train. Where being surrounded by nature is the norm and the populace really appreciate and revel in the natural landscape that surrounds them. It is a place that fascinates me and which features at the top of my bucket list, and I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in the sense of place which this book evoked. A book that was transportative in so many different ways.
This book has set a high standard for the coming year and I highly recommend it to fans of Nordic Noir, who are looking for a novel that represents the pinnacle of the genre.
Bitter Flowers will be published on 21 January and you can pre-order your copy from all good bookshops or online here.
Please do check out the rest of the tour as detailed below:
About the Author
One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty titles, which have been published in twenty-four countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour); Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for Nordic Crime Fiction, and Big Sister was shortlisted in 2019. He lives with his wife in Bergen.
About the Translator
Don Bartlett lives with his family in a village in Norfolk. He completed an MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia in 2000 and has since worked with a wide variety of Danish and Norwegian authors, including Jo Nesbø and Karl Ove Knausgaard. He has previously translated The Consort of Death, Cold Heart, We Shall Inherit the Wind, Where Roses Never Die and Wolves in the Dark in the Varg Veum series.