Monday, 9 April 2018

Audiobook Review: WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE by Gunnar Staalesen

Author: Gunnar Staalesen
Read: February 2018

Book Description:

September 1977. Mette Misvรฆr, a three-year-old girl, disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordas is devastated, but their enquiries and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found. 

Almost 25 years later, as the expiration date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette’s mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge. Chilling, shocking and full of extraordinary twists and turns, Where Roses Never Die reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost crime thriller writers.

My musings:

I profess I love Nordic thrillers, so was very excited to “accidentally” discover this series when scrolling through monthly deals on Amazon – and what could be more intriguing than an old cold case nobody has ever been able to solve? Even though I entered the series at #18, I had no problem at all connecting with the characters or following the story. Initially, PI Varg Veum appeared like your stereotypical flawed detective – a loner who drinks too much and struggles with his demons. I found out later that this was due to the death of his long time partner earlier in the series for whom Varg is still grieving. However, Varg has neither lost his taste for solving crime, nor his talent at following obscure clues to get his answers. When he is being approached by Maja Misvรฆr to look into the disappearance of her three year old daughter Mette over twenty years ago he goes right back to scratch, looking at all the people who lived in the small housing commune in Nordas where Mette grew up. With a background in social welfare, Veum has a nose not only for liars but also for bringing things to light that have remained hidden in the original police investigation.

I love mysteries that reveal small seemingly insignificant clues as the detective unearths them, letting readers draw their own conclusions. This Hansel-and-Gretel like trail of evidence eventually gets results, revealing dark secrets that have been hidden by members of the commune for a quarter of a decade. Staalesen has a talent for portraying all of his characters with such depth and insight that I was totally enthralled by the events that unfolded, and could picture them clearly in my mind.

How could I have not come across any of Staalesen’s work before? Containing all the elements I love in Nordic crime fiction – the atmospheric setting, the dark, gloomy undertones of hidden secrets and menace – this made for a fantastic read. Where Roses Never Die is a perfect example of why I am such a huge fan of the genre. With just good detective work, the book may lack the popular features employed by many contemporary crime writers (the unexpected twist, the unreliable narrator, etc), but it makes up for it in atmosphere, excellent character development and a multi-layered plot. Very highly recommended to all lovers of Nordic crime – I will definitely look up other works by the same author, and with 17 previous novels and number 19 published late last year, it will keep me entertained for a long time to come yet. 

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