'A Norwegian Chandler' is how Jo Nesbo views Gunnar Staalesen, high praise indeed. Staalesen hails from Bergen, Norway's second city on the west coast, and he sets his PI Varg Veum crime novels there. Staalesen's written over 20 novels, many of them filmed (ironically the lead speaks with an Oslo not Bergen accent and is a sexy guy, naturally) and thanks in part to the fact that the Varg Veum series has sold over two million copies worldwide, both Staalesen and Veum's names are intertwined in the public consciousness with that of the city of Bergen. Quite something. (Indeed, Varg Veum is now so closely associated with Bergen that there's a public statue of him there and organised tours for fans of where the books take place.)
Cold Hearts is the latest Varg Veum to appear in English (earlier ones include The Writing on the Wall, The Consorts of Death and Yours Until Death). The plot turns around a missing prostitute and soon we are in far deeper water than that. Like all the Varg Veum's, it's a real page-turner: the momentum carries on building until the very climax of the story - and is simply enthralling. Cold Hearts is one of those crime novels that you want to race through in one go, which is what I did with this one.
In another life, before he became a PI, Veum was a social worker and this past life is a vehicle which allows Staalesen to explore pressing social issues of the day (prostitution, drug dealing, Bergen gangs, domestic violence and the like). This gives Cold Hearts and other Varg Veums a very contemporary feel.
Barry Forshaw, the doyen of crime critics, calls Staalesen 'one of the finest Nordic novelists in the tradition of such masters as Henning Mankell'. I couldn't haven't have expressed it better myself.