5 June 2015

Blogtour Review! We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen

We Shall Inherit the Wind
Gunnar Staalesen (translated by Don Bartlett)
Orenda Books, 2015
Paperback, 262 pages

I'm grateful to Liz at http://lizlovesbooks.com/ for kindly inviting me to join this blogtour alongside a number of excellent bloggers (for a full list see poster below).

This was the first time I'd heard of Norwegian private investigator Varg Veum, hero of a series of noirish detective novels.  he's apparently famous in his adopted home town of Bergen where there is even a statue of him.  One mark down for English insularity, then, and I'm glad Orenda Books have now made some of these available in the UK.

In this book, Varg is asked to investigate the disappearance of Mons Maeland, a businessman interested in bringing windfarms to a small island in the west of Norway.  Mons has family troubles, there is oppositional from environmentalists to the windfarms, and also a fundamentalist religious faction on the island that looks upon such developments with dour disapproval.

For me, this mix of social and personal issues was fascinating. I don't know much about Norway and it's easy to assume that some very lazy Nordic stereotypes will apply - liberal, easygoing people, consensus on environmental issues and lots of pine furniture.  So it's jarring and unexpected to see Veum asking, for example, whether "Dancing was allowed then?" and getting the answer "Not in all circles, of course".  Or to see environmental campaigners resort to violence to stop wind turbines (of all things!)

Other aspects of the book are more familiar, perhaps - dodgy business deals, family tensions and inheritances.

It's less unsettling, but equally stimulating, to see cultural references such as to "the Havamal, an old Norse poem" or to the "potato pioneering priests of yore" establishing the book's atmosphere as very different from a crime novel set in England, Scotland or the US. This is a land of fjords, islands, bridges and ferries. Travel invariably requires a ferry or a boat. And our detective isn't an ex policeman but a retired social worker - but don't let that give you the impression he's any kind of pushover. "Varg" means "wolf" and Veum bares his teeth serveral times in the book, including facing up to a thug with the memorable phrase "Tell your mongrel to stay on its mat!" which I am determined to use myself one day.

In discovering what has happened to Maeland, however, Veum's greatest strength is his patient ability to unpick what he's told by wife, children, friends, the inhabitants of Brennoy and those militant environmentalists. The picture builds up, step by step: there are no blinding flashes of deduction or revelations from the forensics lab.

Veum's greatest weakness, perhaps, is his inability to leave things alone, which leads to disaster - indeed there are foreshadowings of that disaster through the early part of the book, from simple feelings of unease to the comment that a blind has been drawn has been drawn as Veum passes, as if to shut out evil.

Not having read any previous books about this detective I don't know much backstory, beyond the little given away here (an account of how he met his girlfriend and a tally, towards the end, of injuries he's suffered).  This did mean I wasn't particularly invested in Veum as a character, seeing him more as a narrator, perhaps. However while not telling the reader a great deal, Staalsen hints a lot and I would imagine Veum has a distinctly chequered past which I look forward to reading more about

A good addition not just to the roster of Scandi detectives but also to the range of crime writing available in English.  More please...

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