Friday, 8 June 2018

Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen

Big Sister
By Gunnar Staalesen
Published by Orenda Books (published 20 June 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
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…

My verdict
I've read a few Varg Veum books now (thanks to the fantastic translations by Don Bartlett through publisher Orenda Books). Big Sister is definitely my new favourite (so far).

In Big Sister, Veum is looking into the disappearance of a young woman, prompted by a surprise visit by his half-sister (a woman he didn't even know existed until now). This is a haunting story of hidden pasts, family secrets, fathers and fatherhood and troublesome relationships between parents and children - as Veum not only searches for the young woman, but also explores his own past.

The Varg Veum books are gradually coming into the modern age, with mobile phones and computers becoming more popular. Big Sister also features some very contemporary themes, with plenty of darkness lurking beneath the surface. Yet this book (as with Gunnar Staalesen's previous books) still has a traditional 'private eye' feel to it, which I love. Here is a detective used to using his head rather than the tools around him to investigate, explore and do his job. Veum is a man with strong principles and a nose for trouble. But he still manages to put himself into danger several times, ramping up the pace of the book and providing several nail-biting scenes.

Big Sister is perfectly packaged Nordic crime fiction, with its amazing sense of place and chilling plot - one particular scene left me feeling cold (not many books have that effect on me). I finished the book feeling a little sadder and more thoughtful then when I began its rollercoaster journey. The words flew off the page, thanks to the taunt writing and seamless translation, and I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.

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