Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen (tr. by Don Bartlett) #BookReview #BlogTour

PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when a challenging assignment arrives on his desk.

A man is found dead in an elite swimming pool and a young woman has gone missing. Most chillingly, Varg Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.

As the threads of these apparently unrelated crimes come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Varg Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.

I always look forward to a new Varg Veum book, knowing I am guaranteed an engrossing, thoughtful noir thriller and I'm delighted that Orenda Books are publishing some of the earlier novels in the series. Bitter Flowers is set in 1987 and takes place a few months after the devastating events in Fallen Angels but this is an entirely separate story and so can be read as a standalone.
I was fourteen in the summer of 1987 and found it fascinating to be reminded of a time when ecowarriors, as they were called then, were in the headlines, we were worrying about the ozone layer and global warming was becoming a concern. These issues form a fascinating backdrop to Bitter Flowers as Gunnar Staalesen explores the rising hostilities between a group of activists and a local company accused of dumping toxic waste. However, although this environmental crime should undoubtedly be a cause for concern for the residents of Bergen, Varg Veum actually has a personal case to investigate after a body is discovered in a swimming pool by his physiotherapist and friend, who then goes missing herself.
Varg Veum is one of my favourite fictional detectives and that's partly because although he is always determined, compassionate and witty, his demons continue to haunt him and his ups and downs as he comes to terms with the things he's seen and struggles with his addiction to alcohol make him such a sympathetic character. He regularly raises the hackles of the local police but even they grudgingly work alongside him as his innate understanding of when to listen and when to push for answers seems to encourage people to divulge their secrets. As he is fresh out of rehab here, we see a healthier, more hopeful man although it's made obvious that he isn't cured and his relationship with the bottle will continue to be an ongoing challenge. 
As Varg begins to delve deeper into the lives of the victims, he discovers a tangled web with too many connections to be merely coincidence, and the links to a tragic cold case, known as the 'Camilla Case' are even more ominous. He begins to suspect that somebody in the present wants to stop any revelations about the mysterious disappearance of  eight-year-old Camilla in 1979 and there's a further intriguing thread to this compelling story as he questions whether there is more than meets the eye to another tragic accident. As always, Gunnar Staalesen brings Bergen evocatively to life; it's summer in this book but the long nights and fragrant flowers may come to haunt Veum as he struggles to place the various puzzle pieces of this mystery together. 
I don't want to say much else about the case, suffice to say that how and why everything ties together is brought together in a conclusion that's both immensely satisfying and desperately poignant. Instead, I want to highlight just how beautifully written this book and indeed series is; despite exploring some of the darkest aspects of life, the poetical descriptiveness of the language is a sheer delight. The frequent mentions of art, music and literature don't just reveal Veum to be an intelligent, cultured man, they also pay homage to Norway's rich cultural heritage and I love learning more about the country whenever I read one of Gunnar Staalesen's books. Thanks must once again also go to the translator, Don Bartlett who negotiates the balancing act between ensuring the language retains its natural flow without losing its sense of place, perfectly. 
Whether it's the younger Varg Veum or the more seasoned man, I know I am in for a treat when I read a book in this superbly insightful series and the intricately plotted, surprising, elegant Bitter Flowers is no exception. Very highly recommended.

Bitter Flowers is published by Orenda Books and can be purchased directly from their website or from, Hive, Waterstones, Kobo and Amazon but please support independent bookshops whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty titles, which have been published in twenty-four countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour). Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for Nordic Crime Fiction, and Big Sister was shortlisted for the award in 2019. He lives with his wife in Bergen.

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 Knausgaard. He has previously translated The Consort of Death, Cold Heart, We Shall Inherit the Wind, Where Roses Never Die and Wolves in the Dark in the Varg Veum series.


Post a Comment