Book Review: The Last Pilgrim

Gard Sveen, author of The Last Pilgrim

Photo: Lise Åserud/NTB
Norwegian author Gard Sveen received the Riverton Prize 2013 for his debut novel, The Last Pilgrim.

Washington D.C.

The Last Pilgrim is the debut novel of Norwegian Gard Sveen. When it was published, it became an immediate success, soon winning three prestigious awards: the Riverton Prize in 2013 and both the Glass Key and the Maurits Hansen Award in 2014.

This gripping book is both a work of historical fiction and a crime novel. It begins when three skeletons are found in Nordmarka, north of Oslo, in May 2003. Detective Tommy Bergmann takes the case and is soon able to identify them as two women, Agnes Gerner and Johanne Caspersen, and a young child, Cecilia Lande. Realizing that they were murdered back in the early 1940s, he is determined to solve this cold case. 

book cover for the Last Pilgrim

Book cover
The award-winning novel The Last Pilgrim was translated by Steven T. Murray.

Bergmann learns that Agnes was a member of the Norwegian Resistance during the Nazi occupation of Norway, and her boss was Kaj Holt. She never dealt with him directly and knew him only as Number One. She interacted solely with Number Two, Carl Oscar Krough. She had to be careful and, in order to divert suspicion, she became the mistress of and then the official fiancée of a high-ranking Nazi, Gustav Lande. She lived in constant fear that Caspersen, the nanny of Gustav’s daughter Cecilia, and Peter Waldhorst, a German Gestapo official who seemed to have an eye on her, would suspect her of her duplicity. 

In June 2003, only one month after the skeletons are found, Krough is found brutally murdered in his home. Bergmann begins to suspect that there is a connection between the skeletons and Krough. Why would Krough be murdered shortly after the three skeletons were found? What could be the connection? It was believed at the time that Holt had committed suicide, but might he have been murdered as well? The scene then shifts back to May 1945 in a POW camp in Lillehammer, where Captain Holt is interrogating Peter Waldhorst,

No spoilers here but suffice it to say that this book is a thriller, a veritable page turner. Sveen has written a complex plot with an intriguing cast of characters, who certainly keep the reader guessing as to who can be trusted and who cannot be. And, although it is a rather long book, you might just want to read it again when you realize that you obviously missed some important clues along the way. 

Sveen has now joined the celebrated company of the best Norwegian crime novelists including Jo Nesbø, Karin Fossum, Thomas Enger, Anne Holt, and Jørn Lier Horst. It remains to be seen if he will remain in this group with his subsequent novels. To date, he has published five books in his Detective Tommy Bergmann series. The second book, Helvete åpent (2015) is now available in English with the title Hell is Open.

The Last Pilgrim, Sveen, Gard. (2016). Amazon Crossing. Translated by Steven T. Murray from the Norwegian Den Siste Pilgrimen (2013).

This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.