Rachel Hall's Reviews > Where Roses Never Die

Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen
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it was amazing

Gunnar Staalesen, the godfather of Nordic Noir, is on exemplary form with his eighteenth novel in the Varg Veum series and our protagonist is as dogged as ever and his social conscience just as much in evidence. The death of his long time partner Karin three years ago is still very much an open wound for Veum, and his descent into a state of alcohol fuelled morass is threatening to overwhelm him. Living from one bottle of aquavit to the next, "on the longest and darkest marathon of my life", it is the case which Maja Misvær approaches him with that offers him a lifeline and forces him to clean up his act. After all, who better to empathise with a mother losing a child than a man who has been through the trials that Veum has faced, the most painfully felt being the demise of his partner?

When Maja Misvær comes to his office in Bergen, Varg Veum is encouraged to take the case purely out of financial necessity after a fallow period of work and his growing dependency on alcohol has rapidly drained his coffers, yet his hopes of resolving her problem are not high. He remembers the original media attention on the disappearance of three-year-old Mette Misvær in September 1977, from the middle-class and peaceful suburb of Nordas as she played in a sandpit outside the window of her home. The case came as a shock to the other families that lived in the community and has drawn a shadow over the Solstolen Co-op project of living ever since. That a child could have disappeared from the fenced area that surrounded the five homes where the residents all knew one another would seem unthinkable. As the twenty-five-year statute of limitations is looming Veum agrees to undertake a final review of what became known as "The Mette Case" and remains unresolved.

Varg Veum's approach to his work is rather understated and may appear simplistic; those he comes across are keen to mock what a simple private investigator can add to this now cold case after the police have drawn a blank A common mistake is to underestimate him, but Veum is not only an expert at reading people but also in hitting the raw nerves that bring the most salacious details to light. Veum's background in social welfare and his dealings with locating missing children enable him to empathise with those who seek his services and his failure to be shocked by the dark underbelly of society is paramount to his skill. As long held secrets are exposed and proceedings take a distinctly darker turn his resolve and often his provocation in handling the most aggressive characters threatens to finally answer the question of just what happened to little Mette Misvær.

Undoubtedly Where Roses Never Die is the most eloquent treatment on the topic of grief in crime fiction since Jan Costin Wagner's Detective Kimmo Joentaa, and Veum's battle with the bottle draws some insightful analogies from our protagonist. In addition, this is an affectionate portrait of Bergen, the home town of Staalesen where Varg Veum is rightly held in the high regard that he deserves, and provides a spectacular backdrop to his travails.

As ever, the translation by Don Bartlett is outstanding and Bartlett's innate 'feel' for Veum shines through for a character he has now translated on four occasion. Readers who would not normally consider translations are urged to do so as the use of slang and colloquial expressions is second to none.

Quite simply, Where Roses Never Die is an exquisite work of crime fiction and Staalesen's eye for characters is as finely honed as his readers have come to expect. Beautifully paced and making some wider statements on the repercussions of behaviour on impressionable youths and morality, this is the literary equivalent of manna from heaven! Staalesen's prose is consistently on point; one moment stricken by grief and the next catching readers off guard with his rapier sharp wit reminiscent of Ian Rankin. Staalesen leaves his readers hanging off his every word, aching to discover the truth as he finally brings a sense of closure for Maja Misvær and simultaneously solves another crime en route. Hopefully, there could will be one last chance at romance for Varg Veum, and certainly plenty more outings in his private investigative capacity! Exceptional stuff!
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