Series: Varg Veum
Book Number: 6 (English translations) / 21 (Norwegian originals)
Read this book for: dark crimes, complicated plots, fragmented narrative, fast paced, private detective
Quick Review: A twisting, complicated plot that shows both the freshness of unique ideas and the experience of a fantastic crime writer – a page-turning, must-read thriller.
Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material … and who is seeking the ultimate revenge. When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet.
WOLVES IN THE DARK is the sixth novel featuring private detective Varg Veum to be translated into English (by my count), but actually the twenty-first in the series. Despite how long this series has run, this is actually my first experience with the Veum novels, and this has a tense freshness that is incredibly impressive just given the sheer volume of the novels with this character.
The first unique item that really grabbed me was the sheer complexity of the plot, which really showcased Staalesen’s skill as a master of his craft. It teased together a vast number of seemingly unrelated threads into something loosely strung along a few relating factors but still disparate enough to not be able to see how it fit together, and ends by dropping in a lynchpin that ties everything up. But even though it’s tied together, it’s still a bit ragged – not everything points to one perpetrator, and in so doing, the ending strikes a perfect balance between satisfying for a classic mystery lover that loves to see a puzzle come together, and the noir thriller enthusiast that loves the realism of an ending with rough edges. It’s a balance very few achieve, and it’s masterfully done here.
Also of note is Staalesen’s use and subversion of the heavily-used ‘amnesia’ trope combined with the noir ‘drunk/suffering detective’. He shows how Veum’s downward spiral affected his work, beyond just affecting his memory, and it again lends a gritty edge of realism to something that would otherwise be trite.
A warning to readers: this novel contains several fairly graphic sexual references, including to paedophilia and child exploitation. It’s definitely not for the squeamish, and I don’t think that it was entirely necessary to go as far as the novel took those elements, occasionally for simple shock value. However, it does stay true to the ugly, noir-style sense of realism that Staalesen uses to create Veum’s world.
As a detective thriller and a complex mystery, I have to absolutely recommend WOLVES IN THE DARK; I know that I will be adding more of the Varg Veum series to my reading list this summer!