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Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 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 Epsen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen with his wife.
Below is a Q&A with this author.
1. You have written over 20 crime thrillers in the Varg Veum series. Did you ever think it would go on so long?
It is almost 40 years since I started the series, and at that point I never thought as far the 21st century! The first one was an experiment, to see if the formula about a classic PI would work in Scandinavian context, but when that was a huge success here in Norway, it opened the door for me to continue. In light of that – yes, I hoped it would be a long series.
2. is a statue of Varg Veum in the heart of Bergen, a celebration of his birthday, and a myriad of branded merchandise. Are you surprised at the ‘fame’ of your protagonist?
Yes, I must admit that the size of the interest for my detective is much bigger than I could dream of. To day he is almost the Sherlock Holmes of Bergen! I just wanted to be a happy crime-writing storyteller and to have readers for my books, but see what it developed into! Almost an industry!
3. A missing child is at the heart of the plot. What inspired you?
In Norway, as you surely have in your own country, we have some famous cases of little children (mostly girls) who disappear without ever being found again. I can’t think of a worse situation for the parents (very often a single mother). I have written about a similar situation in an earlier Varg Veum novel (Bitter flowers, still not translated into English), but this time I wanted to go even deeper into the reactions such a disappearance would create in not only the parents, but also in neighbours, friends of the family, other children, the police. And I wanted to give an answer to the mystery – not as in real life, where there are often no answers at all!
4. In Where Roses Never Die, Varg is recovering from the death of his long-term partner Karin, and a period of serious reliance on alcohol. Your descriptions of his dependence are stunningly authentic. Did you have to research this?
Well, thank you for that. I am not a very hard drinker myself, even if I do enjoy the taste of most sorts of alcoholic beverages. But I have met some alcoholics during my life time, there is a great deal of literature about it (not at least in crime fiction), and, as a writer, you have to use your imagination.
5. There are numerous twists and turns in this book, and a completely unexpected ending. How do you plot your books? Do you know how it will end before you start writing?
I attempt to have an ending in mind before I start writing a book. The opening and the ending are the two most important elements of a crime novel. Many people can write a good opening, but not that many can create a satisfying ending. But there is a lot of writing to do between these two points in the story. Some of the twists in the plot are planned beforehand; some of them surprises even me, when I get the ideas during the writing. This time, the ending was the most definite element of them all: I had it in my head many years before I wrote it!
6. As a father and grandfather yourself, did you find the storyline troubling or distressing?
Yes, I feel that crimes against children are one of the most horrible things to think about. I do not like to write about it, really, but since it is part of real life and I have chosen to write about real life within the frame of more or less classic crime mysteries, I have to write about it in some of my books. But I try to never get too close to the victims. As Varg Veum worked as a social worker earlier in his career and, in particular, safeguarding children, it is also an important part of his life and his character: to care for children and try to protect them.
7. Does Varg ever direct the action? Take the story in different directions than you had planned?
I will not say that Varg directs the action in the books, but it happens of course that the writer gets some new ideas during the writing that can change the direction slightly. But the ending is still there, as a goal to reach.
8. Tell us about your ‘road’ to publication.
I started writing seriously when I was 17: poems, short stories and a short novel, but very few of the poems and stories were published. I published my first novel when I was 22, another one when I was 24, and at 27 I published my first crime novel, a police procedural, the first of three about two police detectives in Bergen. In 1977, when I was 30, I published the first book about Varg Veum, and the rest is history. I have also written 10/12 dramas or adaptations for the theatre.
9. Jo Nesbo calls you the ‘Norwegian Chandler’. Was he an influence?
It is very nice of Jo to compare me with Chandler, and of course he is an influence, as I believe he is for most modern crime writers. Chandler is the Shakespeare of crime fiction, and we all have to relate to him. As for plotting, my biggest influence is Ross Macdonald, and I have also learnt quite a bit, I think, from the Swedish founders of Nordic Noir, Sjöwall & Wahlöö.
10. What’s next?
Answer: After Where Roses Never Die, which was published in Norway in 2012, I have written two further Varg Veum novels. The first one is Ingen er så trygg I fare (No one Is So safe in Danger, which, like Where Roses Never Die, has a title taken from a religious song), published in Norway in 2014 and to be published by Orenda in UK in 2017, and I am just finishing the second one, Storesøster (The Big Sister, with a bow to Chandler), to be published in Norway in September this year, and the UK in 2018.
Steadfast, tenacious and fascinating can be used to describe both the book and lead character in ‘Wolves at the Door’. Private Investigator Varg Veum was previously set up and linked to a horrifying case, now the men actually found guilty of the crime are dying one by one, is Varg next on the list? Gunnar Staalesen was in at the beginning of Nordic Noir, he started this series 40 years ago (there is a statue of Varg Veum in Bergen where the series is set) and has been published in 24 countries. This book does specifically link to previously translated novels so if thinking of stepping into the series you might want to start with ‘Where Roses Never Die’, followed by ‘Wolves in the Dark’ as a lead into this particular novel (‘Big Sister’ also sits in there too). Don Bartlett successfully ensured the thought of a translator didn’t enter my head as I was reading, I was sucked straight into the story and stayed there. I particularly enjoyed the slow slog of the investigation, each piece of information entering the fray and increasing the tension until it reached breaking point. With short, smart, darkly punchy chapters ’Wolves at the Door’ is a provocative and gripping read.
Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn't leave an address. She doesn't answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously. Veum's investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal... Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Big Sister reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world's foremost thriller writers.
A ferociously gripping read from a Norwegian writing legend. Private investigator Varg Veum is in serious trouble, child pornography is found on his computer, from prison he starts to pull all the pieces together in a quest to discover who has planted evidence and why they want to take him down. This novel is set after ‘Where Roses Never Die’, yet delves back in time to when Varg was in a pit of pain. Gunnar Staalesen allowed me to have my suspicions, yet kept my mind on high alert as the past cases are explored. This is at times an uncomfortable read, yet fascinating, thrilling, and action packed too. Varg sits on the edge of official, and dangles his legs over lawful, yet his morality is clear to see and feel. ‘Wolves in the Dark’ is another profound, dark, yet enjoyably readable tale from Staalesen and I can thoroughly recommend joining this series. ~ Liz Robinson Click here to read a Q&A with Gunnar Staalesen about this book.
A truly tenacious and back to basics Nordic crime novel featuring private investigator Varg Veum. Staalesen has been writing about Veum since 1977, however this is my first foray into the series, and found it could easily be read as a standalone. 25 years after a three year old disappears in mysterious circumstances, the mother hires Veum to take one last look at the case. As Veum begins his painstaking detective work, he begins to dig deeper and further than the police have been before, and starts to uncover some disturbing links to another crime. Staalesen writes with a clipped, matter of fact style, the sharp delivery in the first person really sets Veum centre stage. There are an awful lot of characters to get to grips with and it’s worth getting them straight in your mind, right at the beginning of the novel. With plenty of surprises in store and an intriguing case, ‘Where Roses Never Die’ sets your mind working overtime and is a gripping read. A 'Piece of Passion from the Publisher... 'Gunnar Staalesen is one of the fathers of Nordic Noir and the creator of the unforgettable private investigator Varg Veum. Only six of the 20-odd titles in the series have been translated into English to date, and I am honoured to have the opportunity to publish the remainder, beautifully translated by Don Bartlett. Known as the ‘Norwegian Chandler’, Staalesen is a master of his craft, creating tightly plotted, page-turning and extraordinarily atmospheric thrillers that tackle social issues in the finest tradition of Nordic Noir. As Sarah Ward says in Crime Pieces, ‘Staalesen’s greatest strength is the quality of his writing. The incidental asides and observations are wonderful, and elevate the books from a straightforward murder investigation into something more substantial.’ I could not agree more. Where Roses Never Die is Staalesen’s best book to date, and I could not put it down until I had devoured every last word, and then re-read the stunning, completely unexpected denouement, just in case my eyes had deceived me. ~ Karen Sullivan, Publisher, Orenda Books