I’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.