Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th June 2018 from Orenda Books
Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously.
Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal…
Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Big Sister reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.
It is November 2003 in Bergen and Varg Veum has not long moved back into his office after a period of refurbishment of the surrounding apartments. A surprise visitor, unknown to Varg, announces herself as his elder half-sister, Norma Johanne Bakkevik, given for adoption before Varg was born.
Norma has followed Varg’s career from afar, ever since she found out that she was adopted and who her birth mother was. Now she needs Varg’s help. She is the godmother of 19 year old Emma Hagland, a young student nurse who has vanished into thin air. She entreats Varg to take the case and since she is newly met family, he can hardly dissent. He even offers a family discount on his fees!
The case will give him an opportunity to understand his family history and perhaps meet new relatives, and of course it will take him down paths that revisit old crimes as well as new.
This is Varg Veum as we know him, stubborn and relentless. But yet the lone wolf at 61 is a little more conscious of his age and mortality; of the need not to be quite so alone anymore and his approach to this case whilst tinged with the same irony and humour is perhaps just a little more reflective.
Staalesen excels in his storytelling. His characters are very real people whose backstories we get to know alongside the details of their struggles and hardships.
As Veum relentlessly pursues all avenues in pursuit of his quest, he finds himself travelling to Emma’s home town of Haugesund, where his half-sister Norma also lives.
There he is also introduced to his second cousin, Ruth, who suggests a thought to him that will become difficult to dislodge from his mind. But it is his meeting with Emma’s fragile mother, Ingebord that will give him the link to a horrific rape in the early 1970’s; one that altered the course of the lives of all the Hagland family.
As Veum pieces together a narrative that leads from the 70’s to the present day, Staalesen’s writing reflects some of the concerns he has for contemporary Norway. Here we have themes of mental health, abuse, neglect and rape, drug use – and above all who we are and what family means to us.
These important questions are posed by Staalesen in the midst of a novel where the tension rises and the action speeds up with every page. He has an impressive command of language and flow, and I loved the way he built up the action by degrees, until it is almost a surprise when the pace starts racing and and leaves you breathless.
Unsettling, beautifully written and with a consummate command of his prose (hat tip to translator Don Bartlett), this is a novel that offers so much more than just another crime story. Like chocolate, it is rich, dark and bitter, but it flows smoothly, lingers on the palate and leaves you wanting more.
About Gunnar Staalesen
Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at
the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book
in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been
published in 24 countries and sold over five million copies. Twelve film
adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring
the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim, and a further series is being
filmed now. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of
Honour) and the Petrona Award, and been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger, lives
in Bergen with his wife.
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