Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen (Orenda Books)

I’m quite new to Nordic Noir. To date, apart from the book I’m reviewing here, my only foray into this incredibly popular genre is with the two great books by Ragnar Jonnason, Snowblind and Nightblind. I enjoyed these books when I read them and was looking forward to trying another novel by another writer within this genre. Orenda Books was only too happy to oblige.

Where Roses Never Die is the latest book in the Varg Veum series. It can be read as a standalone very easily. Varg Veum is an alcoholic private detective who is slowly but surely losing the will to live. As he drowns his sorrows in bottle after bottle of aquavit (Google tells me this is a Scandinavian spirit however, from it’s name it sounds like the healthiest alcoholic drink ever!) Veum finds it hard to be enthusiastic about life, spending most days drunk or hungover. However, when Maja Misvaer approaches him to look into the disappearance of her daughter nearly 25 years earlier, Veum finds himself with a new sense of purpose and as he digs deeper into the lives of Maja, her family and her neighbours from the time of the disappearance, he finds that not everything is as it seems.

I thought this book had quite a slow start. I wonder if this is a typical feature of Nordic Noir, as I thought his with Jonasson’s books. However, it picks up and it becomes apparent that the slowness of the first few chapters is providing the reader with clues that make no real impact early on but make perfect sense as the story unfolds. What I really loved about this book was that there were lots of seemingly loose ends that Staalesen weaves into a beautiful tapestry to illuminate his end game with the novel. There are the typical twists and turns of a crime thriller but they are so smoothly aligned that the narrative flows so seamlessly.

Nothing is arbitrary in this book. Every character, every action and every reaction is in place as a piece of the jigsaw that slowly comes together as the narrative progresses. Even the slightest natural response is telling as the resolution to the plot is explained. Staalesen’s writing is unbelievably clever in how he manages to structure his tale to reveal nothing yet reveal everything. I couldn’t have predicted the events of the final chapters in the book if I tried yet all the answers were there. This is truly the mark of a fantastic writer.

What Staalesen also does well is to highlight the flaws in human nature. Every character has their own story to tell, their own crosses to bear, even Veum himself. As a reader, many different emotions are tapped into by Staalesen as he shows the errors of judgement, bad decisions, and the effects of the circumstances that these characters find themselves in, voluntarily or not. I found it very emotional to read in places as I put myself in the place of some of the characters, in particular, Maja Misvaer. As a mother of three girls, it is a horrific thing to imagine that a simple distraction could result in your child disappearing from your life forever. It is impossible to watch your children 24/7 but novels like these make you hug your children a little tighter as you put them to bed.

Where Roses Never Die is a wonderfully written novel that shows that what goes on behind closed doors is rarely how you would imagine. As long-buried secrets are unearthed, Staalesen takes his time to prolong the suspense in what has happened to this little girl, resulting in an enticing, gripping read. Although this is the first Varg Veum novel I’ve read, I’m very keen to read others. What is even more apparent is that Orenda Books have published yet another fantastic book. I’ve read three Orenda Books in close succession and loved them all, not mention the numerous Orenda Books I’ve read previously. I do wonder if I’ll ever come across an Orenda Book I won’t enjoy. I can’t see it myself. However, Where Roses Never Die is definitely a book I’d recommend if you’re a fan of Nordic Noir, or if you are new to the genre like me. If you love a good mystery, you’ll love this book.