Sister see, sister do / She’s got to save me

Gunnar Staalesen, Big Sister (Storesøster (2016), translated by Don Bartlett (2018))

Big Sister

He automatically stepped back and tried to close the door, but I could be the pushy salesman if I wanted, so I leaned against it and followed him in before he had a chance to complete his action.

A trope of the series detective is to suddenly find a sibling, never mentioned before, from whom he is estranged. The sibling is in trouble and/or committed a crime and frankly should wearing a red jumper.

The title is, I realise all too late, a nod to Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister (1949), which I suspect I haven’t read.

Here we have Norma Johanne Bakkevik, a decade or more Veum’s senior, daughter of a different father, who will lead Veum to speculate (further?) on the identity of his own father. Norma wants him to find her god-daughter, Emma Haglund, a student nurse who has gone missing in Bergen.

Emma is also a big sister – her father, Robert Høie Hansen, has a new wife and a son, and seems to have been divorced by Emma’s mother due to his suspected involvement with a rape that has left its victim catatonic.

No one in Bergen seems to care about Emma’s absence, save for a biker gang who positively don’t want Veum to do any digging into past crimes. He inches forward, escapes death, and as always there’s the socially acceptable crimes of the middle classes that are as horrifying as the Big Bad’s. Never trust the religious.

And then there’s a twist – which I really should have seen coming, especially as Staalesen has done something similar before. The rug, not for the first time, is pulled out from under his feet. It is brilliantly done. On a wider level, there’s perhaps more trauma that should be felt by Veum and he gets well from his hospital bed rather too quickly.

DromedarOf all the Veum novels I’ve read, this is the one I most recognised Bergen in – I know the Sailors’ Monument and I’ve drunk in the Dromedar café and the one in Galleriet. I think there’s a nod in Bartlett’s translation, but it may be whether you see Dromedar as being off the arcade or the square.

But a few other details jar – it’s the doors. Bartlett describes them as if they open into buildings, when broadly in Norway they open outwards. You can’t easily bash someone in the face with them. You can pull it more widely open, but not push it open.

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