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by Gunnar Staalesen and Don Bartlett, trans.
Orenda Books, September 2018
276 pages
ISBN: 1912374196

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

BIG SISTER is Gunnaar Staalesen's latest contribution to Nordic noir. This mystery features private investigator Varg Veum and is part of the author's long series featuring Veum. The book starts with what appears to be a calm, normal event. Norma Johanne Bakkevik comes to his office and wants to hire him to find her missing godchild. Veum soon learns that Norma is actually his half sister, a woman he had known existed but had never met. They had grown up with different fathers in different cites. This is just the first of many odd family connections and relationships that propel the increasingly suspenseful plot of this Scandinavian thriller.

Norma is not very forthcoming with details about the missing person, 19-year-old Emma Hagland. At first, Norma does not want to reveal Emma's life history to Veum, which makes it all the more intriguing. Veum is able to discover that she had a difficult childhood. Her mother abused alcohol and her father, Robert Hansen, had abandoned them under unclear circumstances. He was now remarried and lives in Bergen with his wife and son. But there seems to be a further secret about what happened in the past.

Veum goes to the town where his sister lives and visits her and the girl's mother. He eventually discovers the information that has been kept from him, that the father had been accused of a horrific crime, and Emma's mother had forbidden him to see his daughter.

Veum learns that Emma had tried to connect with her father but was turned away at the door. When Veum visits Hansen, he also is met with hostility. The father belongs to a motorcycle gang and soon the detective is being followed and threatened by members of the gang. He encounters two maniacal brothers who had been Hansen's friends growing up. One of these frightening men is the leader of the gang, and both brothers may be implicated along with the father in the assault that took place in the past. This knowledge puts Veum's life in jeopardy.

Veum's personal life is deeply affected by the people he encounters and what he learns about himself. At Norma's home, he meets a cousin who tells him information about his own mother and her life, which leads him to believe that his father was not really his father. He is a sensitive man, and the events recounted in this current book affect him profoundly. The reader too will feel drawn into the characters and their intertwined lives, the ways that the secrets of the past can destroy what is good in the present.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, August 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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