Varg i veum is, I believe, the  Norwegian idiom for a lone wolf, an outsider.  From it Gunnar Staalesen has derived the name of his private detective, Varg Veum. An ex-social worker, Veum’s social conscience is perhaps more more pronounced than his many fictional counterparts.  Having spent many years of his life trying to prevent youngsters going of the rails, it is particularly frustrating when all his efforts come to naught.  In The Consorts of Death, he is suddenly confronted with a death threat.  The one seeking his life, a young man who has just been released from jail and who blames Varg for ruining his life.  Their paths have crossed continuously ever since Veum removed the infant boy from the squalid care of his mother.  Subsequent encounters under ever increasing tragic circumstances (the deaths of two foster fathers and a foster mother) cast doubt on Veum’s inherent faith in the boy and the power of the well-intentioned to do good. 

High up above the mountains the moon had appeared, the earth’s pale consort, distant and alone in its eternal orbit around the chaos and tumoil below.  It struck me that the moon wasn’t alone after all.  There were many of us adrift and circling around the same choas, the same turmoil, without being able to intervene or do anything about it.  We were all consorts of death.

Narrated entirely in 1st person from Veum’s perspective, we experience the case as he does.  His puzzlement, his rare moment of doubt (quoted above).   I was puzzled with regard to his faith in the boy because for a very long time, years in fact,  there is absolutely no evidence to sustain it.  But young-boy-wronged-by-all-who-have-cared-for-him-eventually-makes-good is too simplistic an outcome.  This novel makes you think.  At what point does a child become so damaged that the right track becomes an impossibility?  Does bad karma exist and prove impossible to avert?  Must those who try to help but fail shoulder a burden of guilt?

Weighty themes indeed and yet so easily read.  I, who would one day like to cruise the Norwegian fjords, really enjoyed the travelling with Veum from Bergen along the western coast of Norway, even if I wasn’t enamoured of the picture he painted of life in the rural communities. 

Before I move on to discuss Nesbo’s The Snowman I must register my disapproval of the sticker-like circle defacing  the cover proclaiming Nesbo as the next Stieg Larsson? I beg your pardon but Nesbo was publishing the most addictive crime novels long before Larsson.    The first Harry Hole novel published in Norway in 1997.  The first Larsson published in Sweden in 2005.   QED?

(Note from editor.  Deep breathes, Lizzy, move on.  It’s only a marketing strategy, after all and it might just attract many more readers to a deserving author …  Note from Lizzy – OK but I’m making it a rule not to buy any book with that proclamation on the cover.  I’ll borrow them from the library and wait patiently, even if I’m number 26 in the queue for the new Nesbo, The Leopard. See there’s loads of people who recognise quality.   Nesbo doesn’t need such cheap tricks.   Rant over.  Deep breathes, 1, 2, 3 …. Let normal service resume.)

I’ve written about Nesbo’s creation Harry Hole before and I’m delighted to say that he’s still unbalanced even if he has mellowed in the interim.  He has loved and lost the love of his life.  Poor Rachel – life with or without Harry is not destined to be smooth.  Harry’s preoccupation with serial killers is unabated and, at last,  Norway spawns one.  The modus operandi is extreme and chilling.  Here’s Harry searching for a missing woman.

It was her.  She stood erect and immobile between the trees, looking at him without blinking, the same large sleepy eyes as in the photograph.  Harry’s first thought was that she was dressed as a bride, in white, that she was standing at the altar, here, in the middle of the forest.  The light made her glitter.  Harry breathed in with a shiver and grabbed his mobile phone ….

“Cordon off the whole area,” Harry said …. “There’s a snowman here.” ….

“The head” …. “It belongs to Sylvia Ottersen.”

The serial killer chooses the settings and refines the modus operandi.  By the time the final murder is staged, it is incredible (as in unbelievable) and yet it remains spectacular.   The identity of the killer has been revealed.  Even so this is where Nesbo is at his strongest. The pages turn increasingly rapidly. The vividness and pace of the final chase leaves the reader breathless.  Will the killer receive just desserts? Well yes, but with a twist that feels justifiably poetic.

Loved it. Looking forward to the film which I believe will be the first adaptation of a Hole novel.  The author has been reluctant to sell film rights.   “I’m very excited and a little worried,” said Nesbo. “This is like putting my baby on the bus to the big city for the first time. But it feels like she’s ready for that now.”   Hooray, I say.  Though who, I wonder, will play Harry?