Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen (tr. Don Bartlett) #BookReview #BlogTour

PI Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office from a woman who introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a nineteen-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously. Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers and to a shadowy group, whose dark actions are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal... Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Big Sister reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.

I'm delighted to be hosting the blog tour for Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen today. Many thanks to the author, publishers and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me and for sending me a copy of the novel which I chose to read.
This is the second Varg Veum book I have read, following last year's superb Wolves in the Dark. Varg seems less haunted by his demons in this latest instalment, he drinks less and doesn't seem as set on a path of self-destruction. Nevertheless the case he takes on leads him into great personal danger and also results in him making life-changing discoveries about his own past. His half-sister, Norma arrives at his office unexpectedly one day - though he was aware of her existence, the two had never met previously although he learns that Norma has discreetly followed his movements from a distance for years. However, her visit is not just motivated by the desire to finally meet her half-sibling as she shares her fears for her god-daughter, Emma who has been missing for a few weeks after leaving home to study in Bergen. There is an immediate warmth between Norma and Varg and so he readily accepts the case though there is little to go on and he realises she is being somewhat reticent about certain details.
Though he may be less dour in this book, Varg is still a dogged investigator who will take every necessary step to seek the truth, often going where others fear to tread. He suspects that a decades old crime lies behind Emma's sudden disappearance and his investigation leads him into the murky world of criminal biker gangs and the equally grim world of family secrets. As it transpires that the catalyst for his investigation was a brutal attack on a young woman many years ago, it becomes clear that what links the past and present are young women who have been irrevocably damaged by the men in their lives who should have protected them.
The title of the novel is a clue to the theme that runs throughout Big Sister; this is a book about families; the binding ties; the need to belong; the terrible damage that those most closely related can inflict on one another, either by accident or design. As Varg makes discoveries about his own parents, so he learns the truth about Emma's fractured family life in this contemplative, heartrending story. At one point in the novel, Varg notes that the November rain is 'the personification of gloom' and so it is that the grey days imbue the book with a melancholic feeling which is mirrored by his sombre discoveries. Gunnar Staalesen understands that though crimes may be solved, there are still victims for whom happy endings are impossible and that the shadow cast by evil acts is a long one.
As the latest in a long running series, some people may be concerned about reading Big Sister but I can confirm that it can easily be read as a standalone novel. Though I found it fascinating to see the character development between this and the previous novel and there are the occasional mentions of past cases, this is a self-contained story - although there is an intriguing nod to where the direction the dogged Veum's investigations will take him next so new readers will almost certainly be tempted to become returning readers! I'm definitely looking forward to discovering how the emotional events that occur in this book will effect Varg in the future. Don Bartlett has once again translated the original Norwegian magnificently, retaining the Nordic sense of darkness while ensuring the book flows seamlessly throughout. Though the subject matter may be bleak, Big Sister is a beautifully written novel. Gunnar Staalesen's exquisitely detailed descriptions create an atmospheric, immersive story which is meticulously crafted, sensitively written and wholly engaging. I thoroughly recommend it.

Big Sister is published by Orenda Books and can be purchased here. Don't forget to follow the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over five million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim, and a further series is being filmed now. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour) and the Petrona Award, and been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger, lives in Bergen with his wife.

About the Translator
Don Bartlett lives with his family in a village in Norfolk. He completed an MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia in 2000 and has since worked with a wide variety of Danish and Norwegian authors, including Jo Nesbø and Karl Ove Knausgård. He has previously translated The Consorts of Death and Cold Hearts in the Varg Veum series.