I've now read the only three books in the Varg Veum series by Gunnar Staalesen that I'm able to read, and I'm convinced on this basis that this series is a worthy addition to the very top of the stellar PI series that are out there. Maxim Jakubowski calls the series "an upmarket Scandinavian Philip Marlowe", and I agree (not so sure about the upmarket, though) that if you like Chandler, Macdonald, and those who have followed in their footsteps, you surely have to love these books.
I've just finished The Consorts of Death, which I enjoyed the most of the three novels in the series I've read. Although it is the 14th (or 13th?), you can start with this one as most of the book consists of back-story and flashback (not in the least boring, it is an exciting case that can only be solved in the present because of three separate cases in the past, all involving the same person at the centre). Consorts of Death has the added advantage of being translated by the superb Don Bartlett, who also translates (among other authors) Jo Nesbo and K. O. Dahl.
As with the best of PI and other crime fiction, the appeal of the Varg Veum books is not only their plots and the gradual development through the protagonist's life and times, but their sadness at the human condition, a strong sense of social justice, and their wonderful sense of place. All the best novels have this poetic element that can speak to the readers' emotion at another level from the events in the plot. Here is an excerpt:
It was beginning to get dark as I drove into Osen where the Gaular waterway plunged like a faded bridal veil towards the fjord. High up above the mountains the moon had appeared, the earth’s pale consort, distant and alone in its eternal orbit around the chaos and turmoil below. It struck me that the moon wasn’t alone after all. There were many of us adrift and circling around the same chaos, the same turmoil, without being able to intervene or do anything about it. We were all consorts of death.
I shall say no more here as I must now write my review of the book and submit it to Euro Crime. Until then, however, if you are short of a book to read, perhaps sad that Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is over, or tired of waiting for the next Temple or Connelly or Crais, give The Consorts of Death a try. I don't think you'll regret it.
Some related articles:
The Consorts of Death reviewed in the Independent. (Positive review of the book which gives due credit to the translator.)
Simon Clarke's Amazon review of The Consorts of Death. (Another positive review.)