Wolves in the Dark, by Gunnar Staalesen – book review

51suSTG5ZaL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Having been thinking about ‘truth’ last week I’ve had the startlingly unoriginal thought that crime novels are about different types of ‘fake news’ (yeah, I know, right?) and about how truth – however defined – is achieved and expressed in the denouement. Over the next couple of weeks we have some thrillers for you that explore identity, truth within families, and gender. And today we welcome the blog tour for Wolves in the Dark, a new translation in the Varg Veum series, which considers untrue allegations and also the question of reliability, packaged up in a fast moving plot.

The premise is that veteran private dick Veum is arrested as part of a massive international investigation into a child pornography ring. Disgusted, Veum sets about clearing his name by working out who has set him up, but this requires him to reach into a memory made hazy by alcohol abuse in the wake of his partner’s death at the end of previous novel We Shall Inherit the Wind.

Gunnar Staalesen (in translation here by Don Bartlett) steers very clear of any description that could be regarded as exploitative, and the electric pace and ninety-degree swerve right at the end mean that it’s easy to walk away from the book wondering whether there was really a need to mention this darkest of crimes. It’s very easy to miss that much as Veum is not an active participant he has through his alcoholism put himself in a number of places where abuse takes place. And his rubbish detective work during this period has had significant and serious consequences for a number of people. As such, one reading of the book, not necessarily explored in the first person narrative, sees us question the innocence of those who are on the edges of morality’s underbelly. Wolves in the Dark continues the long tradition of thrillers that critique contemporary society.

Veum is a great creation: flawed but self-aware, he catalogues his shortcomings without fake piety or crocodile regret. We want him to win, and we root for him throughout. This is particularly important given the vile nature of the allegations: we don’t for a moment believe that Veum would have any truck with the abuse of children and that helps us with the issues discussed earlier.

It’s also worth considering his role as a narrator himself. It’s a cliché to compare this series with the works of Chandler but hop across the Atlantic and we can imagine Marlowe drawling the likes of

Good advice was expensive and my account had been empty for years.

For someone who spent two years bouncing from bottle to brothel, Veum does seem to manage to adequately remember encounters that he has no right to be able to remember. He manages to outsmart the Bergen police and for a while we’re provided with a gripping cat and mouse tale (with a real cat!), told with vivid metaphors and liberal wisecracks. There’s a fine thread of humanity which runs throughout the novel, which helps make us feel we’re on Team Veum throughout, even as we yell at both drunk and sober Veum, questioning the former’s life choices and the latter’s willingness to wander into dangerous situations.

‘Do you require anything special?’ she added.

‘Yes, I do.’ I said, without a word of a lie. Anything special? Well, the truth, for example?

Dark, melancholic and menacing, this is a book that asks us searching questions. Top notch.

Get it at Amazon.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy. And do check out the other blogs taking part in the tour.

wolves blog tour poster


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