Nebuchadnezzar Again — or Belshazzar in Bergen

Gunnar Staalesen, The Writing on the Wall (Skriften på Veggen (1995), translated by Hal Sutcliffe (2004))

“the voracious violence of the wolf, who can also turn protective, paternal, and maternal”

writingSo, the best part of a decade has passed – Varg’s son is at university in Oslo and his wife’s new husband has died, although these seem like minuscule details, touched in passing. The friendly policeman is not mentioned, another seems to have died (I don’t recall the name) and a grumpy cop, Dankert Muus, is a week or so from retirement.

Here we have three cases that you know will intersect:

When one Friday afternoon in February Judge HC Brandt, age seventy, was found dead in one of the better hotels in town, wearing nothing but flimsy women’s underwear, rumours soon began to spread.

And Varg has been getting anonymous death threats.

But the plot engine is a missing school girl, on whose trail Varg is sent, and is actually paid, although it’s not clear why the mother hasn’t gone to the police – unless her estranged husband is trying to keep it quiet. But we know, by now, that Varg is always a step behind, and her corpse is found in the countryside by a friend.

It would be too easy for the friend to be guilty.

Here Bergen seems to be a more corrupt town – there is a network of prostitutes and sex workers, of both sexes, some clearly underage, operating out of games arcades and city centre hotels. There is a Mr Big – Varg’s answer to Rebus’s ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty – who may be behind it.

The various plates are carefully spun, but whilst there is a criminal underworld, criminals may lie closer to home. Solving the crime may not bring consolation.

Varg is still finding random women attractive, but he seems happy enough on a feminist protest (although descriptions of them as women’s libbers feels a little dated). There is also acknowledgement of homosexuality, although this brings in an HIV subplot, perhaps a hint at Ibsen’s Ghosts, but that would be pushing it.

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