Surviving on Caffeine and a Cold Heart

Gunnar Staalesen, Cold Hearts (Kalde hjerter (2008), translated by Don Bartlett (2013))

Cold HeartsSo here I could see the end coming.

We have two interweaved plots: the Bergen criminal underworld and the Bergen charitable middle class. Varg Veum, private eye, outcast, pariah, persona non grata, is able to code switch between the levels, perhaps more acceptable to the sex workers than the professional classes or the police.

Here, his client is a sex worker, Hege, who reports one of her colleagues, Margrethe Monson, is missing and another, Tanya, has been beaten up by a trick. Margrethe has a brother, who should be in prison but has gone missing, and a sister, who seems to be the only one with a successful career. Veum’s investigations takes him to Margrethe’s flat, where he runs into her pimps, Kjell Malthus and his knife-man Rolf Dalby, who would rather he didn’t work on the case.

But he’s not put off and delves into Margrethe’s past – an alcoholic father and an all-too passive mother. A group of five neighbours decide to intervene before social services can get officially involved – although Veum goes back to talk to his old social work haunts and colleagues.

Their good intentions are clearly problematic, and we know by now that wealth and status is not guarantee of morality. When we get to the denouement, we are perhaps no happier than we were at the beginning, whilst the professional villains only get short sentences. And those at the heart of the crimes, the true victims, were programmed that way by their nurture or lack of such.

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