Cold Hearts by Gunnar Staalesen

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Cold Hearts by Gunnar Staalesen

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Steve Shayler
Reviewed by Steve Shayler
Summary: Private Investigator Varg Veum is asked to discover the whereabouts of missing prostitute, only the case is not as simple as it seems; this is dark, gritty and gripping crime writing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 300 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Arcadia
ISBN: 978-1908129437

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After refusing a prospective client, who afterwards viciously assaulted another prostitute, Margrethe goes missing. Her worried friend from the street visits Varg Veum, a local private investigator, in the hope that he will take the case and get to the bottom of it without the need for police involvement. Varg then investigates every lead and attempts to discover all he can about the missing woman’s unusual upbringing, racking up more trouble and past cases as well as creating dangerous enemies.

There are many glowing comparisons between Gunnar Staalesen and Raymond Chandler and their heroes Varg Veum and Philip Marlowe with three such comments on the cover and praise sections of this book. These comments are fair enough, both writers creating stories with great investigators on interesting and gritty cases but there the similarities end. Varg Veum is a very different character to Philip Marlowe, they approach their investigations with different styles and both styles are fantastic to read. Marlowe always had street smarts, a swagger about him and an almost unnatural intelligence whereas Veum does not have the exceptional investigative mind that Marlowe possessed and certainly very little swagger. Veum feels like a more down to earth and relatable character; he does a good job and solves cases through sheer dogged questioning and chasing of leads. Veum never seems to stop meeting contacts or questioning family members or colleagues, he tirelessly works his way to his revelations. He also has a background as a social worker which gives his character a great deal of depth and he shows a lot of heart throughout the story. There is definitely a place in the world of crime novels for Varg Veum, he is a compelling character and although maybe not as exciting as Marlowe is certainly very relatable and absorbing.

Cold Hearts starts with a simple premise that opens up and becomes a much larger mystery with greater and further reaching consequences. Veum’s search for the missing Margrethe opens up a world of prostitutes, pimps, drug smuggling, violence and awful childhoods. The scope of the case quickly becomes massive and many old and new wounds are opened up. This is a story that never pulls its punches and although lacking in action (not a negative at all) in the first half, the subject matter and the revelations that come to light create more than enough tension and excitement to keep any reader turning pages, and fast. There is quite a dark atmosphere to this book and at times the story is very disturbing; it is far from being a jolly mystery but is one that is menacing and bleak. I love this in crime writing and here it is done very well. The pacing is fantastic and all the pieces of the mystery fit in with exciting timing meaning that as a reader you are never far from another little bit of information being revealed.

Cold Hearts is a well written crime story with a great and well plotted mystery at its core and an engaging investigator. I love the works of Raymond Chandler and although this is very different I am pleased that it is. Gunnar Staalesen has his own style and it works and despite the comparisons to Chandler being incredibly hard to live up to he approaches close when it comes to a good quality read. This book displays the best qualities of crime fiction and any fans of the genre would really enjoy it.'

For a Chandler inspired crime novel try Die A Little by Megan Abbott.

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