Review: Gunnar Staalesen – Cold Hearts

gunnarI’m a Gunnar Staalesen fan but his books are only slowly being translated into English. So I was delighted that the latest of Staalesen’s books to be published over here was submitted by its publisher, Arcadia Books, for the Petrona Award. Cold Hearts contains everything that I love from this writer. The cool dispassionate prose narrates a tale of exploitation and violence and, of course, Varg Veum is present to navigate his way around Bergen’s streets in the hunt for a killer.

The book opens with Veum visited by a prostitute who is concerned about the disappearance of one of her friends, Margrethe. The evening of her disappearance she had fled in terror when a curb crawler pulled up beside her and the girl who did enter the car was badly beaten up. Varg’s background as a social worker has led him to encounters with dysfunctional families such as Margrethe’s where lack of care spirals into abuse and prostitution. But Margethe’s brother in prison has also disappeared and when of the street girls turns up dead, Varg looks into the past for the roots of the spate of murders.

Staalesen is one of the best Scandinavian writers and deserves a wider audience in the UK. This is the second book in a row that I’ve read that deals with the murder of prostitutes and, once more, I found myself moved by the depiction of life on a city’s streets. In Cold Hearts  we get a sense of the failings of society that allows a clearly broken family to be ministered to by a group of do-gooders. Varg, with his social worker background, can see the flaws of this approach which allows him to unpick decades old events.

You always get a strong sense of place in Staalesen’s books and frosty Bergen, a place I’ve never visited, came alive. I hope we get to see much more of Varg Veum and this is the start of a wider readership for a writer who is one of the best.

I love the look of the new translation. The cover is very well designed and fits in perfectly with the tone of the book. The translation is by the excellent Don Bartlett. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book.

19 thoughts on “Review: Gunnar Staalesen – Cold Hearts

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – An excellent review as ever and I am partial to books with a strong sense of place. It sounds like a strong contender for the Petrona Award, so I too am glad it was submitted. Little wonder you enjoyed it so much.


  2. First, this is an author I was unaware of. Interesting contrast to the series by Jo Nesbo. I went back and checked out your review for The Consorts of Death, wondering how I had missed it. I was in Alabama at the time, so I guess that’s it. Both sound interesting, and I checked out a few reviews of earlier books online. Will put this author on my list to keep an eye out for.

    Also, Arcadia Books looks interesting. Some crime fiction authors I am familiar with, others new to me.


  3. Kathy D.

    Just what I need — more good Nordic writers; the TBR list groans. However, I will add this author and hope my library gets in his books. The character development, plot and sense of place sounds like the right balance for me anyway.


  4. Kathy D.

    Can I read this book without reading prior books in the series? My TBR list and piles all over are giving me hives! So, if I could zero in on this one, I’d be glad to try to read it.


  5. Interesting review – there are so many Scandinavian authors I haven’t heard of, let alone tried! It sounds quite dark, which I know is the attraction for many people, but tends to put me off. I will note the name for a future read.


  6. Pingback: The Best of August’s Reading | crimepieces

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