The Consorts of Death, by Gunnar Staalesen

Bibliography, Gunnar Staalesen

Books:

  • Uskyldstider – novel (1969)
  • Fortellingen om Barbara – novel (1971)
  • Rygg i rand, to i spann* (1975)
  • Mannen som hatet julenisser* (1976)
  • Bukken til havresekken* (1977)
  • Den femte passasjeren* (1978)
  • Din til døden* (1979) Yours Until Death
  • Tornerose sov i hundre år* (1980)
  • Kvinnen i kjøleskapet* (1981)
  • I mørket er alle ulver grå* (1983) At Night All Wolves Are Grey (1986)
  • Hekseringen – short stories (1985)
  • Knut Gribb tar Bergenstoget (1986)
  • Vaskerelvens Rose – play (1986)
  • Svarte får* (1988)
  • Falne engler* (1989)
  • Fredag den trettende, eller Poseidons hevn – play (1990)
  • Vikingskattens hemmelighet – novel (1990)
  • Bitre blomster* (1991) Bitter Flowers
  • Regnbyen. Om solen, regnet, byen og bergenserne (1991)
  • Arven – play (1992)
  • Varg Veums Bergen. – travel guide to Varg Veums Bergen (1992)
  • Vikingskattens forbannelse – novel (1992)
  • Dødelig madonna* (1993)
  • Begravde hunder biter ikke* (1993)
  • Sivert skuteløs – play (1994)
  • Vikingskattens voktere – novel (1994)
  • Bergens mysterier* (1995)
  • Blues for Amalie Jensen – short stories (1995)
  • Skriften på veggen – roman (1995) The Writing on the Wall
  • Amalie Skrams verden – non-fiction (1996)
  • De døde har det godt – short stories (1996)
  • 1900. Morgenrød – novel (1997)
  • 1950. High Noon – novel (1998)
  • 1999. Aftensang – novel (2000)
  • Hundreårsboken – non-fiction (2000)
  • Som i et speil* (2002)
  • Duen fra Bergen – novel (2003)
  • Ansikt til ansik*t (2004)
  • Mordet på Michelsen* (2005)
  • 1900. Christian Molands hemmelige liv – play (2005)
  • Dødens drabanter* (2006) The Consorts of Death
  • Kalde hjerter* (2008)
(* is crime fiction book)

In addition, Gunnar Staalesen has published a number of the cartoon books featuring Varg Veum, as well as more than 25 plays and musicals.

Prizes, awards (selected):

  • The Riverton prize 1975
  • Gyldendals legat 1989
  • Bokhandlerprisen 1989
  • Palle Rosenkrantz prize 1990
  • The Riverton prize 2002

(This book has so far only been published in England, not in the US.) At the start of this crime fiction novel by Norwegian writer Gunnar Staalesen, his main character, private eye Varg Veum, receives a phone call from the past. The Consorts of Death, by Gunnar Staalesen To some extent, this book is the same to me. I started reading Gunnar Staalesen’s series about Varg Veum in Norwegian some 20+ years ago. The first book in this series was actually published in Norwegian in 1977! And now I meet him again. And this was actually my second meeting with this old ghost during the last few weeks – a short while ago the second Varg Veum movie suddenly popped up on my TV screen! However, even though the Varg Veum series is getting a bit old, Varg Veum the character is alive and well, and every bit as vital as I remembered him!

The call from the past that Veum receives is actually a phone call from an old girlfriend. She brings up a name from Veum’s past – Johnny Boy. Johnny was a referral case that Varg worked on in his previous life as a social worker. He was a small boy, only two years old, in a violent family who needed protection. Then, a few years later, when Johnny was six, Veum met him again, this time at the scene of a murder. Time after time little Jonny Boy was in trouble, and suspected of killing people. Death and mayhem seems almost to be following in his footsteps. And now the ex-girlfriend informs Veum that Johnny Boy seeks vengeance on all those who failed him. Veum apparently is high on that list. For the severely traumatized Johnny who has been involved in three murders it is now time to fight back.

Varg Veum senses that in order to stop Johnny, it is important to gain a deeper understanding of the murders that have shaped Johnny and placed him in the corner he now is trapped in.

Staalesen in an interesting author. He has been extremely productive, and has written a long list of books (only four have so far been translated into English), crime fiction, other fiction books, several plays, and other works. His crime books are strongly inspired by hardboiled American detective fiction. He cites Raymond Chandler as his prime inspiration. And, indeed, there is much that is Chandler-esque in Staalesen’s books, and much Philip Marlowe in Varg Veum. But Staalesen’s style is still unique, a kind of Chandler-inspired McBain-like crime fiction with a social conscience. The plots are complicated and well composed – in The Consorts of Death we revisit events taking place in 1839, 1970, 1974, 1984 and 1995, and Veum skillfully untangles the ways in which the past has a bearing on the present.

The Consorts of Death (orig. title Dødens drabanter) is somewhat dark – or realist, socially critical and empathic - and raises more questions than it answers. Veum’s world is a world full of shades of grey, and while he solves the mystery in the book, the book does not answer the questions. The Consorts of Death is a fine, relatively noir book, and one of the best in the Varg Veum series, and the translation by Don Bartlett seems to me to be superb. It is a very exciting novel with a surprising ending. An excellent read!

See also our reviews of the Varg Veum movies on DVD!

Yours Until Death, by Gunnar Staalesen

This book is classic Varg Veum, and a strong addition to the series. Yours Until Death, by Gunnar StaalesenOriginally entitled Din til døden and published in 1979, it was the second book published in Gunnar Staalesen’s much celebrated series about the Bergen sleuth Varg Veum, and Staalesen’s Norwegian breakthrough. Yours Until Death is a relatively noir crime fiction novel, set in bleak and rainy Bergen and featuring a disillusioned Veum, a man with a past as a social worker – but without much of a present. He is now divorced detective, nearly broke, has no clients to speak of, and lots of unpaid bills.

Then one rainy day he actually gets a new client. Roar, a little man, eight and a half years old and sharp as a tack , comes to Varg’s office with a problem. He has found the sleuth in the telephone book, listed under “Detective Bureaus”.

“Maybe it was because he was the youngest client I’d ever had. Maybe it was because he reminded me of another little boy in another part of Bergen. Or maybe it was because I had nothing else to do. Anyway, I listened to him.”

Somebody has stolen Roar’s bike, and he wants Varg to help him get it back. He knows who stole it, and he knows where it is. The bike is being held hostage by a gang of teenagers from his neighborhood who specialize in terrorizing the locals, and are led by a nineteen year old psychopath named Joker. These bad boys want to lure Roar’s mother to their hut in the forest to get the bike so they can molest her, as they have molested others.

Varg Veum recovers the stolen bike, and meets Roar’s mother Wenche Andresen a beautiful and blue-eyed, shy, and very sensuous woman and becomes infatuated by her. However, what seemingly is the conclusion of yet another trivial case turns into the beginning of something far bigger and more ominous.; Varg gets sucked into a murder case where the victim is Roar’s father and the person accused of the murder is Roar’s mother.- Varg is convinced that Wenche is innocent, even though all the evidence points to her. Trying to prove her innocence, and perhaps also to win her love, Veum very soon finds himself in grave danger.

Yours Until Death is great crime fiction, wonderfully written and excellently translated into English by Margaret Amassian; very dark yet full of dark and understated humor and at times almost unbearably tense. It is a novel more than anything about the potentially destructive force of lust and passion.

‘one of the finest, most serious, most ambitious books in post-war Norwegian crime writing’ - Norwegian critic Nils Nordberg

'Staalesen is another fine representative of Scandinavian crime fiction’—

Independent

‘Varg Veum is in the best traditions of sleuthery’ —The Times

The Writing on the Wall, by Gunnar Staalesen

Gunnar Staalesen is Norwegian, born in Bergen, 1947. He has, among other books, written a series of crime books starring private detective Varg Veum. The first book in this series was published in 1977. Varg Veum is a kind of Scandinavian Philip Marlowe. He is a former social worker turned private detective. Staalesens books have been translated into 12 languages. The Writing on the Wall was originally published in Norwegian in 1995.

The Writing on the Wall, by Gunnar StaalesenIn The Writing on the Wall, Varg Veum returns from the funeral of his ex-wife's most recent husband to find the distressed mother of missing 16 year old girl Torild, waiting to see him. Usually, when women are waiting to see Veum, something bad has happened or will happen.

Also, Bergen is buzzing with rumours about the death of Judge Brandt after he is found dead in a hotel room wearing flimsy female underwear.

Varg Veum starts digging. He looks into the last known sightings of Torild and her few friends. They seem to centre around a local amusement arcade. What initially seems pretty normal, rebellious behaviour seems to be covering up something more sinister, and Veum soon receives death threats. Then Torild is found dead.

Gradually what appears as the result of Veum's digging, is a thriving teenage prostitution scene in the city. Varg is also convinced that there is a connection to the death of Judge Brandt. Before long, Varg finds himself deep within the seedy underbelly of Bergen’s criminal world.

The Writing on the Wall is a detective novel you like or don't like. To a large extent this has to do with Varg Veum. The novel itself is good, it is well written, and Staalesen is great with dialogues, but it doesn't really excite you. However, if like me you have read a number of Staalesen's novels and love Varg Veum, it is a great book. And generally, I think readers that like Veum will also like the book. But Veum isn't all that likeable! He is a straight, believable hero, but he is a little boring and simple to some readers. Personally, I like him because he is pretty low key for a guy from Bergen, and is a little bit shabby. However, I do recommend The Writing on the Wall.

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