On the Screen All Wolves are Silver

Bitre blomster ((Bitter Flowers) Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen, 2007)
Tornerose ((Sleeping Beauty) Erik Richter Strand, 2008)
Din til døden ((Yours Until Death) Erik Richter Strand, 2008)
Falne engler ((Fallen Angels) Morten Tyldum, 2008)
Kvinnen i kjøleskapet ((The Woman In The Fridge) Alexander Eik, 2008)
Begravde hunder ((Buried Dogs) Alexander Eik, 2008)

I had been aware that Bergen’s only (fictional) private detective, Varg Veum, had leapt from the books to the big and direct-to-DVD screens. A little searching found a boxset of the twelve titles, some based on books that have been translated, some on the short story collection.

Of course, there is … *spoilers* … but given the lack of faithfulness of at least one title (in the second series), I suspect that I should not worry. Fallen Angels has now been published in English, but given I’m having issues remembering the plots a couple of days on, I should be safe.

The original books are written in the first person, so we need to be told the things that Veum does not see, but this takes the decision — like a lot of detective television — to widen out the viewpoint to see the victims or the criminals. The narrative is stitched together in such a way that it took me a while to realise — we’ve lose the Chandler-esque light prose poetry of the early book. It also struck me that Varg was not especially a rich character and the same issue is here — we thankfully lose his lust (but there are a number of sex scenes and he acquires a girlfriend in Bitre blomster who remains a regukar cast member) and we lose his tendency to hit the akvavit hard. He also appears a bit less on the breadline than his book version.

Trond Espen Seim is tall and good looking, stubbled, with a messy hair cut and a tendency to wear black, and seems to do the traumatised when necessary, but perhaps defaults to mouth rub because he’s thinking too often. I haven’t seen him in the newish version of The Thing (2011) — a prequel? — and I’ve downloaded but not seen Amundsen (2019).

Meanwhile, Jacob Hamre, a recurring police officer from the earlier books is in every episode and this is really what makes the series sing — indeed Bjørn Floberg gets top billing on the boxset if not the films themselves. The relationship is closer to that of Holmes and Lestrad in Sherlock than Doyle’s stories or Gunnar Staalesen’s novels — a grudging mutual respect, some teasing, and the officialdom’s understandable annoyance at a private citizen breaking into houses and finding murder victims. As the series progresses, an almost friendship does develop (and there’s a younger cop to play hardball).

There’s often an apparemtly unconnected crime at the start and Varg is commissioned to find a missing person — sometimes this requires him to find an arms manusfacturer or oil engineering company with big money to come up against and various criminal families. Varg needs to get knocked out at least once and really should spend more of the series in traction. The sex workers survive from the novels, but his connections with the homeless are missing. The adaptations also keep the conceit of one of the friendly characters being in on the criminal scheme or being otherwise compromised.

They’ve moved his office further along the havn from Strandkaien, I think to C. Sundts Gaten, so he is opposite the Bryggen Museum. There are plenty of helicoptor shots of the harbour and Bryggen, but nothing is set in the World Heritage site, nor in the fish market. There are plenty of cobbled streets with wooden houses, which could be anywhere in the city, and I think his own house is still in the streets close to the funicular railway.

The standalone nature of the episodes means the series avoids some of the grand guignol excesses of the Scandi Noir genre and it also avoids the aestheticisation of the violence against women. It works well, independently of the novels, but is — have I said this already — a little forgettable. What will the second series bring?

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