Where Roses Never Die (Varg Veum Series), by Gunnar Staalesen
Varg Veum is a popular detective in Norway featured in several books and a popular Norwegian TV series. Several of the books have been translated into English though this is the first time I’ve read one.
In Where Roses Never Die, Veum is a former policeman now working as a private detective in Bergen, a coastal town facing the North Sea and on the opposite side of the county from Oslo. At some time before the book begins Veum was an active policeman whose partner was killed, how this happened or how much it had to do with his retirement isn’t made clear here. It’s obvious, however, that he’s still having some emotional resonance from the event as he spends most of his days working through bottles of akvavit, a Scandinavian liquor made with caraway, dill, and herbs.
The book opens with an armed robbery of a jewelry shop. As the three thieves are leaving the store they shoot and kill a man on the street. We’ll learn DEEP into the book how this relates to the case Veum is hired for. A mother asks him to look into a case in which her young (pre-school) daughter disappeared nearly 25 years earlier. The statute of limitations is about to expire and she wants him to review the police investigation to try to determine if something new can be discovered.
The child had been playing in the front yard in a newer neighborhood filled with a strange collection of characters. Veum, talking to those who investigated the case as well as the neighbors who live there at the time begins to see a strange pattern along with a secret that everyone, including the mother, would rather not have revealed.
As the case progresses Veum begins to reform his drinking habit. He looks into things that the police apparently missed or avoided, chasing leads as far and deep as he can.
Veum is an interesting lead character in the tradition of the great noir detectives. There’s a subtle darkness to the book and an underlying thread of sex (not overt, but there) that reminds me of Chandler novels. Not just sex but hidden sex that goes out of bounds and harms lives. The mystery is tight and solid. It’s not a book with a lot of action but a calm and steady investigation that reveals lots of surprises. I’m looking forward to digging into more in the series.