The Consorts of Death by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett

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.)

The Consorts of Death at the Arcadia website.

Gunnar Staalesen at Euro Crime.

Varg Veum films discussed at International Noir Fiction in July, August and September.

Reviews of The Writing on the Wall at Scandinavian Books and at Euro Crime. 

4 thoughts on “The Consorts of Death by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett

  1. Maxine,
    Yes–I agree with all you have to say about
    Gunnar Staalesen—but apart from the two Varg Veum-
    currently available –from Arcadia-which other
    one have you read–and how did you get hold of it??
    I’m glad you met Johan Theorin. I have a Swedish
    client/patient-who has a holiday home on the island
    of Oland –where his novels take place.She tells
    me–that he seems to have make some ‘changes’ to
    the island -for literary purposes.

  2. Thanks Simon. The third one I read is Yours Until Death, in an oldish edition published by Constable and Robinson. I bought it second hand via the Amazon marketplace. There is also one more book in the series that was translated into English, “At night all wolves are grey”, but I can only find it priced at £39 on Amazon and Abe, which is more than I’m prepared to pay.
    Johan Theorin told us that he likes to tell the tales that his grandfather and those of his generation told him when he was young. He began his talk by showing us a b&w photograph of his grandfather’s boat — which could easily have been my father-in-law’s boat – he was a shrimp fisherman on the Solway Firth, Silloth, Cumbria (though he was Scottish, from Annan).

  3. At Night All Wolves Are Grey is currently available from two sellers on Amazon.uk at £24.97 – admittedly too much, but it is a hardback, after all. The book has been out of print for a long time.

  4. Thanks, David – I could only see one for £39 when I wrote this post, so will check out again. I think that Yours Until Death will be reissued by Arcadia next year, but not 100 per cent sure.

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