THE WRITING ON THE WALL - Gunnar Staalesen

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Originally published in Norway in 1995, Gunnar Staalesen's The Writing on The Wall is set in Bergen Norway in the early '90s. Private Eye Varg Veum returns from the funeral of his ex-wife's most recent husband to find the distressed mother of missing 16 year old girl Torild waiting to see him. Around the same time Bergen is buzzing with rumours about the death of Judge Brandt after he is found dead in a hotel room wearing flimsy female underwear.

Veum starts digging into the last known sightings and movements of Torild and her few friends - all of which seem to centre around a local amusement arcade. What initially seems pretty normal, rebellious behaviour seems to be covering up something more sinister and Veum is soon receiving death threats and Torild is found dead.

Varg Veum has a reflective almost pessimistic attitude, enhanced by the first person POV of the book. The reader is treated to everything that evolves in the story from Veum's point of view and with his observations and reactions in stark focus. There is something "Philip Marlowe" about Veum - not just because he's a lone PI, working the cases that the police cannot or will not touch, but also in his attitude and in some of the wisecracks and observations.

Ultimately it's a book about the unpleasant underbelly of a society with some seriously skewed morality covered by an increasingly thin veneer of normality. Varg Veum is a perfect set of eyes to observe all of this and whilst this is not a comforting read and the first person voice is sometimes a challenge to read, it was an interesting social observation.

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A case for Varg Veum...Bergen, Norway. Young teenage girls, some from very cosseted backgrounds, are being drawn into prostitution, partly for kicks, but also to earn money for drugs and trendy clothes. Matters take a turn for the worse when the local magistrate is discovered in a luxury hotel, clad only in women's lingerie - and most assuredly dead. Private detective Varg ('Wolf') Veum is called in by anxious parents soon after to look for their missing daughter, whose body is found dumped beside the road in an isolated spot. Clues point to the Bergen underworld...will Veum escape with his life this time?

Review THE WRITING ON THE WALL - Gunnar Staalesen
Karen Chisholm
Monday, October 1, 2007

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