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Novel set in Bergen, Norway (dramatic and black)

14th May 2014

Cold Hearts by Gunnar Staalesen.

A dramatic and black mystery set in Bergen in Norway. Very well written by Gunnar Staalesen – and very well translated by Don Bartlett.

Varg Veum, a private detective, is approached by Hege – a ‘working girl’ concerned at the disappearance of a colleague. What follows is not for the faint hearted. As the story unfolds we get caught up in a net of prostitution, protection, drugs, murder, and child abuse – in that sense typical of the genre. Varg works alongside the police (with whom he has a love / hate relationship) to make sense of what is going on…

Karl Gunner has absconded from jail. Has he met up with his sister, the missing Margrethe that Hege is so worried about? Has either of them been in touch with the third sibling, Siv? What is the connection between current events and the time in the past when a committee of neighbours was set up to look after the three children after their father had died and their mother was clearly incompetent to do so? Especially when a member of the committee is murdered in the present day.

The book is the proverbial page-turner, very hard to put down. It has twists and turns, but none too artificial or contrived. The 300 pages raced by as I read it. Hard, in some ways, to concentrate on the excellent writing when the plot takes over!

Gunnar Staalesen was born and still lives in Bergen, and his detailed knowledge of the geography of the city comes through loud and clear. In TripFiction terms it is a brilliant guide to the city – as one follows the story from the red light district of C Sundts Gate, via Varg’s office in Strandkaien, and the drug centre of Nygard Park, to the leafier suburbs of Minde – and many other locations beside. A great book to take with you on a visit. What, though, would have been a really useful addition would have been a map of Bergen to make it easier to work out exactly what was taking place where. I found it a tad difficult to follow…

All in all, though, an excellent read.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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