My Book Notes: Big Sister, 2016 (Varg Veum # 19) by Gunnar Staalesen (tr. Don Bartlett)

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Orenda Books, 2018. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 1523 KB. Print Length: 276 pages. ASIN: B078GWYY4K. eISBN: 978-1-912374-20-5. Translated by Don Bartlett. First published in Norwegian as Storesøster by Gyldendal in 2016.

BIG_SISTER_AW.inddOpening paragraph: I have never believed in ghosts. The mature woman who came to my office on that wan November day was no ghost, either. But what she told me awakened something I had long repressed and opened the door to a darkened attic of family secrets whose existence I had never suspected. From behind my desk I sat staring at her, as I would have done if she really had been just that: a ghost.

Synopsis: Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-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 on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds 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.

My Take: According to my information, Big Sister is the nineteenth instalment in the series featuring Varg Veum, a former social worker turned private investigator, by Norwegian crime writer Gunnar Staalesen. The story begins in November 2003 and, in case there is any doubt that the title renders homage to Raymond Chandler, the following paragraph will altogether dispel it.

On the front doorstep we felt one of the North Sea’s freshest winds blowing into the town. You could say a lot about Haugesund, I supposed. The sky was high above the town, and the light strong, but there were no mountains high enough to protect the town, as in Bergen. The winds came straight in off the sea, like the shoals of herring in the nineteenth century, allowing Haugesund to spring up on the old historic sites and turning it into a town where the salty smell of fish never meant anything but money. The herring were still there, but the oil industry had taken over the stream of money – and made a return, little by little.

There is little doubt also that Staalesen, among all the Nordic crime writers, is the closest to Chandler’s universe. Plot-wise, perhaps it may be enough to say that a woman who introduces herself as Veum’s unknown half-sister, wants to hire him to find out the whereabouts of her goddaughter, a young nursing student who has disappeared without trace. The police doesn’t seem to do anything about it, and considers it a simple case of adolescent rebellion that might be solve on its own.  Though Veum soon finds out that the case may well have its roots on another case that took place well over fifteen years ago that was never properly investigated. Simultaneously Veum will begun to dig into a past which affects him personally. The three storylines wiil intertwine as the novel unfolds. By no means I want to hide my enthusiasm on this series. And this instalment is no exception. I do have also in very high esteem its author, and it is always a pleasure to read him thanks to some extent to the excellent translation by Don Bartlett. Highly recommended.

Big Sister was shortlisted for the 2019 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

My Rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

About the Author: One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He took his M.A. at the Bergen University, studying English and French language and literature as well as comparative literature. 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 films 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) and Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for crime fiction. He lives in Bergen with his wife.

To the best of my knowledge, the list of Gunnar Staalesen’s Varg Veum book series in chronological order is as follows:

  1. Bukken til havresekken (1977) The Fox takes the Goose Book #1 in the Varg Veum series,
  2. Din, til døden (1979) English translation by Margaret Amassian Yours Until Death (Arcadia Books 1993)
  3. Tornerose sov i hundre år (1980) Sleepy Beauty Slumbered for a Hundred Years
  4. Kvinnen i kjøleskapet (1981) The Woman in the Fridge
  5. I mørket er alle ulver grå (1983) English translation by D. MacDuff At Night All Wolves Are Grey (Quartet Books, 1986)
  6. Svarte får (1988) Black Sheep
  7. Falne engler (1989)  Fallen Angels
  8. Bitre blomster (1991)  Bitter Blooms
  9. Begravde hunder biter ikke (1993) Dead Dogs don’t Bite
  10. Skriften på veggen (1995) English translation by Hal Sutcliffe The Writing on the Wall (Arcadia Books, 2004)
  11. Som i et speil (2002) Reflections in a Mirror
  12. Ansikt til ansikt (2004) Face to Face
  13. Dødens drabanter (2006) English translation by Don Bartlett The Consorts of Death (Arcadia Books, 2009). Spanish translation: Los círculos de la muerte (Alba Editorial)
  14. Kalde hjerter (2008) English translation by Don Bartlett Cold Hearts (Arcadia Books, 2012) 
  15. Vi skal arve vinden (2010) English translation by Don Bartlett We shall Inherit the Wind (Orenda Books, 2015) 
  16. Der hvor roser aldri dør (2012)  English translation by Don Bartlett Where Roses Never Die (Orenda Books, 2016)  Petrona Award for the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year
  17. Ingen er så trygg i fare (2014) English translation by Don Bartlett Wolves in the Dark (Orenda Books, 2017)
  18. Storesøster (2016) English translation by Don Bartlett Big Sister (Orenda Books, 2018)
  19. Utenfor er hundene (2018) English translation by Don Bartlett Wolves at the Door (Orenda Books, 2019) Book #19 in the Varg Veum series.

Plus two collections of short stories: Hekseringen (1985) The Fairing Ring and De døde har det godt (1996) The Dead are All Well.

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, Cold Hearts, We Shall Inherit the Wind, Where Roses Never Die and Wolves in the Dark in the Varg Veum series.

Big Sister has been reviewed at Cafe thinking, Euro Crime, Nordic Noir, Crime Fiction Lover, Reviewing the evidence, acrimereadersblog, Crime Review, International Noir Fiction, among many others.

Orenda Books publicity page

Gunnar Staalesen


La hermana mayor (Big Sister), de Gunnar Staalesen

Párrafo inical: Nunca he creído en fantasmas. La mujer madura que se presentó en mi despacho ese aburrido día de noviembre tampoco era un fantasma. Pero lo que me dijo me despertó algo que había reprimido durante mucho tiempo y abrió la puerta a un oscuro desván de secretos familiares cuya existencia nunca había sospechado. Detrás de mi escritorio, me sentaba mirándola, como lo habría hecho si realmente hubiera sido eso: un fantasma.

Sinopsis: Varg Veum recibe una visita sorpresa en su oficina. Una mujer, que se presenta como su hermanastra, tiene un trabajo para él. Su ahijada, una enfermera en prácticas de 19 años de Haugesund, hace dos semanas que se cambió de su cuarto de alquiler en Bergen y, desde entonces, nadie ha sabido nada más de ella. No dejó dirección alguna y no contesta a su teléfono. La policía se niega a tomar en serio su caso. La investigación de Veum descubre una serie de delitos cuidadosamente encubiertos y odios contenidos, y el rastro llega hasta a una pandilla de motociclistas radicales a la búsqueda de un grupo de personas cuyas oscuras maniobras se ocultan tras el anonimato de Internet. Y entonces las cosas toman un giro personal … Estremecedora, impactante y tremendamente absorbente, Big Sister, confirma a Gunnar Staalesen como uno de los escritores de suspense más importantes del mundo.

Mi opinión: Según mi información, Big Sister es la decimonovena entrega de la serie protagonizada por Varg Veum, un antiguo trabajador social convertido en investigador privado, del escritor noruego de novela negra Gunnar Staalesen. La historia comienza en noviembre del 2003 y, en caso de que haya alguna duda de que el título rinde homenaje a Raymond Chandler, el siguiente párrafo lo disipará por completo.

En la puerta de la fachada principal, sentimos soplar uno de los vientos más fríos del Mar del Norte hacia la ciudad. Podría hablarse mucho de Haugesund, supongo. El cielo se encontraba muy por encima de la ciudad y la luz era intensa, pero no había montañas lo suficientemente altas que protegieran a la ciudad, como en Bergen. Los vientos llegaban directamente del mar, como los bancos de arenques en el siglo XIX, permitiendo que Haugesund floreciera en el antiguo sitio histórico convirtiéndolo en una ciudad donde el olor salado del pescado no significaba nada mas que dinero. Los arenques aún estaban allí, pero la industria petrolera había tomado el relevo del flujo del dinero y, poco a poco había conseguido una rentabilidad.

Hay pocas dudas también de que Staalesen, entre todos los escritores nórdicos de novela negra, sea el más cercano al universo de Chandler. Por lo que respecta a la trama, tal vez sea suficiente decir que una mujer que se presenta como la desconocida hermanastra de Veum, quiere contratarle para averiguar el paradero de su ahijada, una joven estudiante de enfermería que ha desaparecido sin dejar rastro. La policía no parece hacer nada al respecto, y lo considera un caso simple de rebelión adolescente que podría resolverse por sí solo. Aunque Veum pronto descubre que el caso puede tener sus raíces en otro caso que tuvo lugar hace más de quince años y que nunca se investigó adecuadamente. Simultáneamente, Veum comenzará a indagar en un pasado que le afecta personalmente. Las tres historias se entrelazarán a medida que se desarrolla la novela. De ninguna manera quiero ocultar mi entusiasmo por esta serie. Y esta entrega no es ninguna excepción. También tengo en muy alta estima a su autor, y siempre es un placer leerlo gracias en cierta medida a la excelente traducción de Don Bartlett. Muy recomendable.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Sobre el autor: Uno de los padres de la novela negra nórdica, Gunnar Staalesen nació en Bergen, Noruega, en 1947. Finalizó sus estudios en la Universidad de Bergen,  de lengua y literatura inglesa y francesa, así como en literatura comparada. Debutó a los veintidós años con Seasons of Innocence y en 1977 publicó el primer libro de la serie Varg Veum. Es autor de más de veinte títulos, publicados en veinticuatro países y ha vendido más de cuatro millones de ejemplares. Doce adaptaciones cinematográficas de sus novelas policíacas con Varg Veum se han estrenado desde 2007, protagonizadas por el popular actor noruego Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen ha ganado tres Golden Pistols (incluido el Premio de Honor) y Where Roses Never Die ganó el Premio Petrona Award 2017 a la mejor novela nórdica policiaca. Vive en Bergen con su mujer.

6 thoughts on “My Book Notes: Big Sister, 2016 (Varg Veum # 19) by Gunnar Staalesen (tr. Don Bartlett)”

  1. I’m so glad you have reminded me of this author, Jose Ignacio.I read a book by him a few years ago, Where Roses Never Die, and absolutely loved it, have been meaning to read more by him. This one sounds like a good one to choose next.

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