Where Roses Never Die (Varg Veum) - Don Bartlett, Gunnar Staalesen

Varg Veum is back with a cold case that has strange ties to the present. It’s been almost 25 years since 3 year old Mette Misvaer went missing from her yard. With the statute of limitations looming, her mother Maja asks Veum to take one final crack at finding the truth.

 

It would be a welcome paycheque but before he signs on, Veum will need to make a few changes to his lifestyle. In the 3 years since his partner died, his only relationship has been with a bottle. If he can put the Aquavit back on the shelf, he might find some answers & perhaps a little self respect along the way.

 

The book opens with an armed robbery of a jewelry store In Bergen. As the masked thieves flee the scene, a pedestrian is fatally shot. Police are unable to find or identify the culprits & the case is soon sliding toward the unsolved stack.

 

What’s the connection? Well, you’ll have to sit yourself down & ride shotgun with Veum to find out how this one thread is elegantly woven into the main story.  It’s not easy tracking down those who were part of Mette’s world. Some have moved on, same have died, some have secrets they’ll do anything to protect. But Veum is a persistent guy & his relentless questions soon unveil more mysteries than he bargained for.

 

Staalesen excels at telling stories that are intricate & plausible. There are no bolts from the blue or hastily constructed endings. Every piece of the puzzle is uncovered through persistent digging & there’s almost an audible click as each slides into place on the way to a satisfying end. Violence is kept to a minimum as he chooses to employ Veum’s brains rather than brawn to find answers.

 

It’s a refreshing take on the P.I. genre & more believable given he’s now a man of “a certain age”. He’s not exactly the poster child for healthy living & doesn’t bounce back quite as easily. Instead, he relies on quick thinking & a well placed verbal jab when trouble comes knocking. Veum is a complex, fully developed character who may seem to fit the hardboiled stereotype at first glance. But as you spend time with him, it’s his introspection & compassion that will stay with you. He’s not a bad person, just a lost soul doing the best he can.

 

It’s a gritty & poignant story that flows at a steady pace until the jaw-droppers begin at the 3/4 mark. You’ll find yourself thinking about the nature of secrets, how they never really go away but just hibernate. And the longer they are hidden, the more powerful they become. It’s also a cautionary example of how easily we judge based on someone’s appearance or reputation.

 

If you get to a place where you’re putting out book #18, you’re doing something right. Probably several things, as is the case with this author. His Bergen based PI has become a benchmark in the genre who fans have been following for 40 years & this is a clever, absorbing addition to the series.

 

And hey, if you’re ever in Bergen, stop by & have your picture taken with Veum’s statue outside the Strand hotel near the fish market. He’s a looker.