I always write about people that you could meet in the streets or in your everyday life in Norway


Gunnar Staalesen

Gunnar Staalesen

Consorts of Death

Varg Veum is a former social worker for teenagers who became detective, a recurring character invented by Gunnar Staalesen.
Like Humphrey Bogart, he is waiting for a blonde girl with a veil and a tissue on her mouth to come in his office. We are glad to offer you an interview of the creator of this essential character of Norwegian mystery literature.

Varg Veum does not always have the easy job. If he necessarily ends up winning, he is often laughed at during his investigations. To which detective is he the closest : Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe?

I would definitively say Philip Marlowe. Chandler was the one that inspired me to write private detective novels. But I would mention Ross Macdonald and his detective Lew Archer, as well. Perhaps Varg Veum is even closer to Lew Archer than to Philip Marlowe.

Did it take you long before coming up with the name of Varg Veum?

It is so long ago (1976-77) that I am not sure if I can remember. But I think I got the idea rather quick – and before I started to write about him. I had just read a crime novel by James Jones, with a
detective called Lobo Davies (I think)(the book was A touch of danger), and as Lobo means wolf, perhaps that gave me the idea of Varg, whichs means wolf in old norse language. A detective of this sort should be a “lone wolf”, too. Then, the expression “varg i veum” (wolf in a sanctuary) has a special meaning in old norse – being an outlaw, which fitted well into the character of a private eye.

How have you lived with a recurring character for such a long time?

Very well. I always write something else between the Veum novels, the last ten years mainly adaptions and plays for the theatre in Bergen, so when I return to a new Varg Veum novel, a year will have passed, and I am very eager to start a new book about him. He has developped during the years, of course, but basically he is the same character during the whole series, and in Norway I have just published book no 18, novel no 16 about him.

Is there a Varg Veum tour in Bergen as there is a Millenium tour in Stockholm?

Yes, one of the local guide companies does a Varg Veum tour, and I do one myself, too, when I have the time.

Are the family affairs you describe in your novels only coming from your imagination or do they reflect the Norwegian society?

The family affairs are coming from my head, yes, but I hope – in a way – that they reflect the way of life in Norway today, for better or worse. I always write about people that you could meet in the streets or in your everyday life in Norway – and perhaps even in France?

Why did you choose to write mystery novels?

I guess that most writers write the books they would like to read. Since I was a little boy, I have been fascinated by mystery novels. Growing up, I noticed that through this form of literature, you could say anything about the society you lived in. I was inspired by Swedish authors Sjöwall & Wahlöö, and by American authors Hammett, Chandler and Ross McDonald. I had published two experimental and quite poetic novels at the time, then I wrote my first mystery novel in 1975.

As many of your colleagues, you use mystery novels to investigate the past of your country. Is it a subject close to your heart?

In a mystery novel, the past is almost always present. Because murders and present-day crimes are investigated by the police. If a detective wants to investigate on the edge of an ordinary investigation (often a murder in the case of mystery novels), the weight of the past must be important. Incidentally, it is the same narrative technique used by the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in his « modern » plays : the retrospective technique.

Varg Veum is confronted to various human and ecological traffics. Could he some day face someone like Anders Behring Breivik?

Yes, I think he could be confronted with a character like that in a future novel, but I have no particular ideas about it yet.