Wolves In The Dark by Gunnar Staalesen
Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material … and who is seeking the ultimate revenge. When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet. Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Wolves in the Dark reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.
A writer from day to day
I am often asked two questions: What made you a writer? And: What is your writing routine?
What made me a writer was being an avid reader. From when I learned to read, at seven years old, I have loved books. And this love of reading tempted me, when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, to write some short stories myself. Because I enjoyed drawing too, I illustrated my stories. So for some years I was creating cartoons, very much inspired by Disney’s Donald Duck, which was, and still is, very popular in Norway. I even wrote a crime short story, inspired by having read my first Conan Doyles and Agatha Christies.
In my early years, I wrote mostly for fun. However, when I was seventeen and a high-school pupil, I decided that I would try to write something that could be published. Of course, I started with the shorter forms – writing poems and short stories. I had some of these published when I was eighteen or nineteen, but when I was eighteen my first poetry collection was rejected by Gyldendal. Gyldendal would later become my Norwegian publisher!
Two years later the same publisher rejected my first, very short, novel; and then my second novel, too. With the second book, I was not sure if I agreed with the rejection, so I sent it to another publisher, was rejected by them too, and then to a third, who – surprise, surprise –wanted it. Thus, in 1969, at twenty-two years old, my first novel, Uskyldstider (‘Days of Innocence’) was published. It wasn’t a crime book, but a mainstream novel, clearly inspired by the American writer Jack Kerouac, as was my second novel, two years later.
After this came a period when I couldn’t find a publisher for my work: another novel and a collection of short stories. This was around the time when I started reading crime novels in a new way – not just as entertainment, but as interesting literature, written by authors like Sjöwall & Wahlöö, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Their books inspired me to write my very first crime book – for a crime novel competition organized by Gyldendal. I won second prize, but my future was sealed. I understood where my place in Norwegian literature was: I was a crime writer, and have been since 1975, when my first crime novel was published. Then, in 1977, I wrote my first novel about Varg Veum; and I found a friend for life.
So, to the second question: How do I work?
Well, if it is a good day – with no meetings with journalists and no answers to write for blog posts (…) – I always go for a short walk after breakfast, to get my blood circulating. After that I sit down, very often with a cup of coffee, and start working on my new manuscript. I write, with some pauses, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days. Then I have dinner, and after that, if I have not finished the chapter I was in the middle of before dinner, I prefer to finish that, so there is a new chapter waiting to be written the next day. I very often write like that: one chapter a day, be it a long or a short chapter. It usually takes me five to six months to write the first version of the book in this fashion. Then, after getting an initial response from my editor, all the correcting work begins, and I write a second version. After nine to twelve months I send the finished work to my editor, ready to be published. In Norway this is very often in the autumn, as the Christmas market is fundamental for most successful books in our country.
The year after I’ve written a novel, I try to do something different; for instance, write a new play for the local theatre. Then, the year after that, I’ll write another Varg Veum book. And, as we very often say in Norway, in this way, the days pass by.
I would say it’s a happy life. I do what I like most, and I can even make a living from it. Not all Norwegian writers can say that. We are a small country, but we have a lot of writers.
‘They came early’ as Varg Veum is all too aware. Veum is awoken to hear of a warrant for his arrest. Dazed and confused he asks them, on what charges, Child pornography they answer. It is from there; we are plunged into the nightmare with Veum. Desperate to clear his name and sickened by the charges, this is Veum’s darkest case yet!
Veum immediately calls a lawyer, aware that he needs the best representation but with little funds in his bank account, he calls in a favour from Vidar Waagenes. The police believe Veum is one of four main operators in an online paedophile ring that spans not only Europe but the globe. The evidence is stacked against him and aware that he has spent the last few years drowning his sorrows in alcohol and prostitutes. Even I the reader began to question his innocence. Is Varg Veum a sex offender of the most grotesque kind? Has he slumped so low, that even he doesn’t know if he is guilty of the most heinous acts?
The lawyer instructs veum to compile a list of all those, whom may hold a grudge against him. Whilst locked up on remand, with no access to visits, post and in complete isolation, he has little else to occupy his time. It is whilst held in Bergen state prison Veum takes us on a journey, the journey of his past, failed cases and people burned by Veum. This makes for eye-opening reading, does Veum’s past hold the key to the false charges?
Who seeks the ultimate revenge?
The reflective parts of Veum’s life, are very well written. This is a complex and intelligently weaved novel. The theme is dark and the subject matter of paedophilia and those whom abuse children, never makes for an easy read. But I feel that the author has portrayed the plot in an accurate light, rather than writing vivid scenes of abuse. It explains how people use the internet, how they get caught or get away with it. When Veum escapes from custody, the novel becomes more action focused. Veum needs to prove his innocence and solve the case, with time of the essence, Veum is backed into confrontations with those from his shady past……….
The novel ultimately is about what happens when vulnerability, innocence, trust, safe-havens, justice and honest intentions, meets betrayal, blackmail, scandal, slavery, sexual sadism, violence, bribery, lust and corruption.
It has an outstanding ending, that left me, staring at the last few pages in almost, disbelief!