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.

"Gunnar Staalesen is one of my very favourite Scandinavian authors. And this is a series with very sharp teeth"
Ian Rankin

This was my first Staalesen book and while I enjoyed it I'm not rushing headlong towards hoovering up his other English translations. Wolves in the Dark is the 21st in his Varg Veum series and about the eighth to make it into English.

We start with Veum being picked up by the police in regards to an investigation into a child pornography ring. Images are found on his computer and he is remanded in custody. His lawyer who believes Veum in his assertions that the material has been planted, engages a computer expert to find evidence to that effect. Meanwhile, Veum tries to rack his brains for clues as to who has set him up. A feat not made an easier by the fact that the last three or four years have been mostly spent as a barely functioning alcoholic in a brain-pickling drunken stupor.

Progress in clearing himself is slow and Veum escapes custody when the opportunity arises. With the police convinced of his guilt, Veum has to unpick the past, discover the guilty all the while avoiding recapture. Simple.

Great storytelling, I like how the period in jail, allowed Staalesen to introduce various suspects for the crime into the story, by using Veum's limited recall of his previous cases. The period outside after the escape is very tense, with Varg Veum, trusting his girlfriend to shelter him and provide him the means to stay free. He cuts a fairly isolated figure most of the time.

Tense and enjoyable, littered with some fairly abhorrent individuals and crimes which are thankfully never explored too graphically. What Staaalesen depicts is enough to feel disgust, anger and shame that adults can derive satisfaction from the abuse of those too young and vulnerable to protect themselves.

The second half of the book, read quicker for me than the first as I had gotten used to the Scandinavian names and places. I was initially a tad confused but soon cottoned on to who was who and what they were to everyone else. I think this confusion often surfaces for me in Scandi crime. I'll have to deal with this and overcome it if I'm to enjoy more books from this neck of the woods.
Staalesen's The Writing on the Wall awaits.

4 from 5

Read in June, 2017
Published - 2017 (originally 2014)
Page count - 308
Source - review copy Orenda Books
Format - paperback

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