Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Gunnar Staalesen - On endings and the role of good crime fiction

Today’s guest blog is by Norwegian author Gunnar Staalesen. He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour). 

Twenty-five years ago I read a Swedish crime novel that was written in the early 1950s; I was told it had a very surprising ending. While reading it, various conclusions sprang to mind, until I was certain I had the answer. Lo and behold, the ending was completely different to what I had imagined it would be. Ever since, and over many long years, I kept in mind the solution that I’d come up with – certain that mine was better than the original – and I kept it in the back of my mind for later use.

It wasn’t until I started to plan the book that was to become We Shall Inherit the Wind that the idea sprang to mind again, and it was enough to encourage me to write this particular book. With my ending in mind, I also set out to write a crime novel that involved one of the most controversial topics of debate in Norway over the last ten to twenty years – a debate in which groups of environmental activists even oppose one another. How environmentally friendly are wind turbines? On one hand, there is an important argument about renewable energy; on the other, these are installations that kill seabirds, create significant noise pollution, and, in the opinion of many people, destroy the natural landscape where the wind farms are built. Where there is debate, there is conflict – and conflict creates good crime novels.
An idea can brew for a long time before it matures in an author's head. In fact, while this particular idea was steeping, I put the manuscript aside and wrote another Varg Veum novel instead – Cold Hearts. I returned to We Shall Inherit the Wind, whose ending was about to take yet another turn! Many readers were shocked by the dramatic events that struck Varg Veum and his girlfriend Karin Bjørge in this book and I can honestly admit that I was too.  One of my Norwegian editors insisted upon the ending to the novel, and I needed more than a little help from my old friend, Varg Veum, to solve this particular mystery and reach the conclusion we’d agreed.

I've lived with Varg Veum for nearly forty years. I am often asked about how much of me can be found in his character, and the simple answer is ‘not much’. But I know him well. I know how he thinks and reacts, and I wish that I was the master of repartee that he is. Of course, this is a privilege that authors have. In real life we seldom respond as quickly or as wittily as we might like, while on paper, we can spend hours creating the perfect comeback.

We Shall Inherit the Wind is a good example of the type of crime novel that I have always enjoyed reading, and therefore tried to write myself – a combination of an engaging and current theme with a classic crime mystery that drives the reader to read on; a page-turner, if you like. It’s certainly an effective way to send an important message, to address and even unveil pertinent societal issues through entertainment. It’s unlikely that a feature in a newspaper or even online would have the same impact.

Crime literature is entertaining, and the modern crime novel that we Scandinavian crime novelists have become known for since Sjöwall & Wahlöö debuted in the 1960s, has made a very specific contribution to the genre – providing a sharp and often critical image of the society in which we live. Modern crime literature has, in this way, found its natural place in the literary landscape – a tradition that stems from Dickens and Hugo to Hemingway and Chandler, and the many authors who have since refreshed and revisited the genre. I am delighted to be a part of this tradition, which has carried through the seventeen Varg Veum novels I’ve written to date. Soon, I’ll be ready to start on the eighteenth, as the earlier novels slowly make their way into the English language. Next up for English readers is We Shall Inherit the Wind. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  

More information about the author and his books can be found on his website.

We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesten

1998. Varg Veum sits by the hospital bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin, whose life threatening injuries provide a deeply painful reminder of the mistakes he’s made. Investigating the seemingly innocent disappearance of a wind-farm inspector, Varg Veum is thrust into one of the most challenging cases of his career, riddled with conflicts, environmental terrorism, religious fanaticism, unsolved mysteries and dubious business ethics. Then, in one of the most heart-stopping scenes in crime fiction, the first body appears... A chilling, timeless story of love, revenge and desire,  We Shall Inherit the Wind deftly weaves contemporary issues  with a stunning plot that will leave you gripped to the final page. This is Staalesen at his most thrilling, thought-provoking best.  

We Shall Inherit the Wind is by Gunnar Staalesten (translated by Don Bartlett) and is published on 15 June 2015 (Orenda Books, £8.99)

No comments: