Gunnar Staalesen, Yours Until Death (Din, Til Døden, 1979, translated by Margaret Amassian, 1993)
Some crime novels don’t age well.
Too long ago for liking, I bought a boxset of all the Morse novels dirt cheap from a charity shop, and began reading them in order. I’d not seen more than one of the TV versions – ironically, when staying in Oxford with a friend who was busy working – and so all I knew was beer, crosswords, Jaguar, solving the crime having accused everyone else and dubious geography. I read about three, starting with the first, and paused when I decided I didn’t like the way Morse looked down the blouses of his interviewees.
Okay, they were written between 1975 and 1977, but, still… (I was alternating with James Bond novels, another failed project, for similar reasons, but, also, racism.)
And this, Din, Til Døden, is from 1979 and is the second of sixteen novels by Gunnar Staalesen, featuring Bergen private dick Varg Veum, a series which began with Bukken Til Havresekken (1977).
I confess I was reeled in by the setting, although I visited 35 years later.
I recognise the locations – Veum’s office is somewhere on or off Strandkaien and many of the encounters take place near the Det Nasjonale Akvariet or on the other side of Bergen Havn, in or around Brygge. Veum lives somewhere on a road close to the Fløbanen.
The crime, however, takes place in the shadow of Lyderhorn, in a poor estate in Loddefjord, to the southwest of the city. A gang of retrobates, run by the Joker, is terrorising the local women, just stopping short of rape and involving physical assault. They have stolen eight-year-old Roar’s bicycle, and he wants Veum to retrieve it, without putting his mother at risk. Veum comes off just about on top with the first attempt, but the mood darkens, and his encounter with a youth worker makes Veum realise that none of the authorities are interested in helping out.
He meets and chats with Wenche Andresen, instantly falling in love, and decides to interview her ex, Roar’s father, Jonas, who has now married someone else.
Who he also falls in lust with.
(Veum is divorced, with a child slightly older than Roar.)
The next day, Jonas is stabbed to death and Wenche is left holding the knife – at the same time that the obvious suspect, Joker, is talking to Veum. Veum has to clear her name.
Dubious sexual politics aside, the plot is rather gripping, and the resolution rather unexpected. And as you progress through the book, it might dawn on you the limited options that are available to women where mother and wife are the default roles. Even working women, secretaries, succeed through glamour. And men, clearly, are shits (#notallmen).
Whilst the Hole books have an affinity with the Rebus novels — hard drinking misanthrope in a small, rainy, capital, unable to keep down a relationship — here I suspect that the model is Marlowe.
Monday’s a strange day. The weekend’s depression hasn’t let go of you and the new week hasn’t begun. Maybe we could get along without most of the week. In my racket.
There is an air of ennui alongside the casual sexism, which in there in Chandler, too, or at least his books. It skates along the edge of pastiche – although perhaps the translation pushes it to there. One way or the other. (Strandkaien becomes Sandkaien, perhaps a typo in the original or this book, perhaps a mistranslation.)
I am tempted to read on, but the translations are sparse, and they don’t come cheap.