Staalesen still wows

Book review

Thor A. Larsen
Fishkill, N.Y.

Staalesen - Big Sister

Gunnar Staalesen has been writing crime novels for more than 40 years. Private detective Varg Veum, protagonist of his first crime novel, is back in Big Sister. I read and enjoyed several of Staalesen’s early crime novels, and now, reading Big Sister (published in 2016 and translated into English last September), I still find the author’s style and descriptions of the Bergen area fun to read.

Varg Veum is a likeable private detective, with very little ego, a caring individual who is persistent in his search for the truth. There is virtually no violence, however, frequent suspense!

In Big Sister, Varg meets his stepsister for the first time when she asks him to find her granddaughter, Emma, who has disappeared. In the search, Varg learns about other members of his family and more background on his mother. As he searches for leads in Emma’s disappearance, he uncovers broken-up families, dysfunctional marriages, sexual abuse, drug abuse, connections to motorcycle gangs, and online suicide pacts, all of which must be explored to find Emma. Calls and meetings with people remotely connected with Emma eventually solves the mystery, but the solution was certainly a real surprise for this reader.

The underlying theme of Big Sister is the human destruction caused by sexual crimes. In this story, years before its current timeline, a horrific rape committed by three young men on a female teenager (not graphically described) not only mentally destroyed the victim but also destroyed the marriage and family relationships of one of the perpetrators some years later. On a related note, we learn about the mental devastation of another young woman whose father repeatedly sexually abused her.

Staalesen keeps the reader firmly engaged as Varg moves between the potential culprits, be they in Bergen or Haugesund. Staalesen is very effective in providing detailed personality descriptions of prime characters, allowing the reader to anticipate likely directions of the solution. Included in his descriptive language, Staalesen loves to comment about the weather in Bergen, which can be rather “unsettled.”

In summary, this was a very engaging crime novel that kept me turning pages until the final, surprising ending.

Born in Stavanger, Thor A. Larsen immigrated to New York with his parents in 1948. Now retired from a 40-year career as physicist and engineer, Thor draws and paints, and writes travel and arts articles for a local publication. He and his wife, Arlene, have two adult children and three grandsons.

This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.