Review: Bitter Flowers, by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett



Fresh from rehab, PI Varg Veum faces his most complex investigation yet, when a man is found drowned, a young woman disappears, and the case of a missing child is revived. The classic Nordic Noir series continues…

PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when three complex crimes land on his desk.

A man is found dead in an elite swimming pool.

A young woman has gone missing.

Most chillingly, Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found.

As the threads of these three apparently unrelated cases come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.


Granite Noir fest 2017. Gunnar Staalesen.

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1947. 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 film 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); Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for Nordic Crime Fiction, and Big Sister was shortlisted in 2019. He lives with his wife in Bergen.

My Review

Thanks to Anne Cater for organising this blog tour and to Karen Sullivan for sending me a copy of this book.

My immediate reaction on getting the email about this book was ‘ooh, looks interesting’. Having just read the last 2/3rds of the book in a couple of hours I can confirm, not only interesting, but utterly gripping and there is a car chase. No explosions though.

It took me a bit longer to read the first third a few days ago and then I got side-tracked by being ill and having a major work project to get on with. Since I had nothing planned this morning and a deadline staring at me, I settled in expecting to get a hundred pages or so read before something distracted me, like an urge to clean.

But no, as soon as the cleaning urge passed I went straight back to the book and finished it. Just in time for my support meeting. My record for being showered and dressed enough for a Zoom meeting is down to five minutes!

I love Varg Veum, he’s a grumpy old man on a mission. Mostly to make something of his burgeoning relationship with Karin, but also to find out who killed his physio, why a small child disappeared in 1979 and what it all has to do with a chemical company dumping hydrogen cyanide in rives and marshland. Along the way he gets drugged and beaten up, yelled at by grumpier police officers and discovers the depths of human depravity. Wells are involved.

The book was originally written in the late 1980s, I believe, and it has all the hallmarks of the early digital age – no mobile phones or CCTV to check, and IT is a novelty. It is certainly a different world. The descriptions of the heat of the summer and the landscape are very evocative. The secondary characters are a little shallow in their motivations at times, but they’re viewed from Varg’s perspective so we only know what he knows. Sometimes it take him a while to learn their depths.

The slow burn of collecting the jigsaw pieces is a fun puzzle and the chase through Bergen is exhilarating, while the final explanation is heart wrenching. Amazingly well-written, with just the right changes in tempo as Varg uncovers secrets and makes his conclusions, although incorrect for a while. His recovery from alcohol is handled sensitively and his character is honest in his difficulties. The sex isn’t described graphically either, which is always a bonus for me.

I really couldn’t put this book down and felt compelled to finish it. I can see why it won multiple awards. Such a shame it took so long to be translated into English but good on Orenda for taking it on. Definitely another bestseller here.

1 Comment

  1. annecater says:

    Thanks for the blog tour support x

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