Crime for Christmas
Brought to you by Jerry Holt
’Tis the season—and needless to say, lovers of crime fiction (and its many spinoffs) love their presents like anybody else. Happily, my friends, you are covered. Got a mystery lover on your shopping list? Check out these chillingly cool possibilities!
The Varg Veum box sets
Once there was a television program that just oozed with Scandinavian Noir vibe—two seasons of it, each adapted from or at least emulating the writing of Bergen, Norway’s own Gunnar Staalesen. There were essentially two stars of this series—one was Norwegian Actor Trond Espen Seim, wonderfully scruffy Bergen P.I. Varg Veum. Seim’s take on Norway’s most famous snooper was remarkably accurate: by turns resourceful, frustrated, and sometimes lost in the world’s treacheries, Seim found the key to Veum’s angst—that the tragedies this former social worker turned detective confronts are too great to have logical answers.
In truth, Varg will never solve the riddle of existence, but he will win smaller victories that include nailing some bad guys, righting wrongs of the system, saving some suffering children—and, yes, sheltering the occasional damsel in distress. The other star of the series is Bergen itself, stunningly photographed (note the sweeping pan of the city that opens Episode 1 and looking very much the kind of city that could harbor dark secrets.
There are four box sets at Amazon, each containing three DVDs. The individual episodes are 90 minutes—long enough for release in Norway as theatrical films. Those who love the Staalesen novels as much as I do will wish they were a half-hour longer, since the entries that are novel adaptations feel a little rushed. I can tell you, as one who has lived in Bergen, that it was an honor and a thrill to find those movie locations and stand there. The experience taught me the city in a very special way—especially when I came upon the scene where Seim meets a confidant on the steps that lead up from the city to St. John’s Church and the University of Begen. Wow, I thought. That’s where I used to have my coffee every morning.
The complete Harry Hole
Speaking of box sets, Amazon also offers a 10-volume set of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels that would be bound to jump-start a chilly Christmas morning for any mystery fan. For nearly two decades now, the forever downtrodden Harry Hole, Oslo’s favorite renegade cop, has made serial killers his grisly specialty in complicated but thrilling narratives like The Snowman, Knife, and—my personal favorite—The Redbreast.
Nesbø paints on a large canvas, and therefore Harry is forever pursuing villains that truly are larger than life. But then so is Harry: a gaunt, even cadaverous, loner who has lost more than most of us can even conceive of having. Harry may appear to be a drunken loser, but he has a ratiocinative cunning that makes him more than a match for the homicidally thoughtful baddies he is pitted against.
A little advice: these are novels, like those of Staalesen, that it really does help to read in order. Both Varg Veum and Harry Hole are characters who have grown with their series, and both have experienced pivotal moments that will affect them forever. It’s remarkable to read the books in order and to grow with them.
By the fireside—let Fossum kindle your interest
If you have a Kindle user in your gifting circle who also loves mysteries, you could do your friend a favor by putting a copy of Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer: The First Three Mysteries under that person’s tree.
Fossum is Norway’s Patricia Highsmith—a wonderfully precise prose stylist, whose subject matter is essentially the Community of The Damned. While her series detective Konrad Sejer is the glue that holds this series tight, it is the remarkable array of killers, blackmailers, bad parents, and just plain lost souls that will keep the reader coming back for more.
In the Kindle series, you will find Don’t Look Back, Eva’s Eye—and the remarkable third entry in the series—He Who Fears the Wolf—in which the murder of a lonely woman in an even lonelier part of the woods leads us to the darkest—and most shudderingly memorable– group of suspects you are ever likely to find.
Fossum was kind enough to speak with one of my classes two years ago, and I shall never forget her stunning rapport with that group. But what else would I have expected from a writer who has the ability to make every word on her pages seem as if it were written especially for you—there in your armchair, by the open fireplace—late at night?
Two shots …
And while you are before that open fireplace, a little tipple—especially a thematically appropriate one—might enhance your reading as well. Say you’re spending the evening with Gunnar Staalesen—you’ll definitely want to round it off with at least two shots of Varg Veum Akvavit, from Oss Kraft Distillery. It’s the very fuel that has kept Varg himself solving away on many a cold Bergen night. You’ll want to chase those shots with a Hansa beer. The reason for the two shots is, in the words of Staalesen himself, “That means one for each foot.” Varg-style, folks.
And a skål to Rebus!
Norway’s Edinburgh neighbor Ian Rankin has also given us a detective who has plenty of fans in Viking country: John Rebus, who has crankily been solving murderous cases and downing his beloved scotch for over 20 years. To celebrate those 20 years of Rebus, Highland Park Scotch Whiskey offered a limited batch of Rebus Highland Park. If there’s still a bottle out there, the Rebus fan in you has got to be saying, “Grab it!”
Something for everyone
Still looking? My last advice is to head for Etsy, where you can buy (honest!) Psycho shower-scene bookends! If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. Your favorite mysteries can be forever uniquely supported by Mamma Bates on one end and Marion Crane (in the shower, natch) on the other in a tribute to the scariest moment in all of film noir.
Happiest of holidays to everyone out there—or, as they say in Bergen—four months ’til påskekrim!
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 19, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.