Friday, June 19, 2015

9mm interview: Gunnar Staalesen

Today we have a very special guest here for the 118th and latest edition of 9mm - a man that Jo Nesbo calls the 'Norwegian Raymond Chandler', who has been writing award-winning, bestselling, film-inspiring crime novels set in Norway since the 1970s. A father of Nordic Noir: the great Gunnar Staalesen.

While many crime fiction aficionados will be familiar with Staalesen and his influence (whether they've read him or not), casual crime fans might be scratching their heads after that introduction, thinking 'who?' For while there has been a massive Scandinavian crime wave in the past decade, Staalesen's name hasn't featured that much in the English-speaking world. Until now only a handful of his two dozen acclaimed Varg Veum tales had been translated into English, sporadically, since the late 1970s. But that is changing, with UK publisher Orenda Books - which in its first few months has already had a #1 Amazon UK bestseller with Ragnar Jonasson's SNOWBLIND and a longlisting for the prestigious CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger for Paul E Hardisty's THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING.

Staalesen's impressive novel WE SHALL INHERIT THE WIND was released in the UK this week, and is the first of three Varg Veum tales Orenda will be translating into English in 2015-2017.

WE SHALL INHERIT THE WIND is a clever, thought-provoking thriller where a wind-farm inspector vanishes, kick-starting a difficult case for Varg (“Wolf” in Old Norse). The darker edges of capitalism, environmentalism, and religious fundamentalism entwine in a chilling tale that strikes close to home. 

I have written a feature article for the New Zealand Listener magazine following my recent interview with Staalesen, which will be published in print soon (watch this space), but in the meantime, the Father of Nordic Noir stares down the barrel of 9mm. 


Gunnar Staalesen, the "Norwegian
Chandler" and father of Nordic Noir
Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
It could not be any other than Philip Marlowe.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I can’t remember exactly which one I read by myself (my mother read Winnie the Pooh for me), but it may have been one of the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And I loved it because it was both exciting and exotic.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had published two poetic novels inspired by Jack Kerouac and other writers before I published my first crime novel – and a lot of unpublished poems, short stories and even a short novel. I had published literary articles in the local newspapers.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
As a Norwegian, I enjoy being out in the fresh air, going for walks in the mountains around Bergen, and I was for many years an avid runner with 10 marathons and 50 half marathons on my CV.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Well, Bergen, is a tourist town, so you will find most of it in the tourist brochures, but a “walk on the wild side” (the narrow backstreets of Bergen) could be interesting, perhaps, and not very dangerous... And always a walk in the mountains, but I guess you find that in the brochures, too. A drink at the Varg Veum bar, “Femte i andre”, in the building where he has his office in the books, is warmly recommended.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
They tell me, from time to time, that I look like Martin Sheen, so it should be him, I guess, even if he is too old to play me as a young man. But he has some sons, has he not?

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why? 
If I choose among the ones that is published in English, it should be “Consorts of Death”, because it goes more in the depth in describing the characters.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I guess we opened a bottle of wine each time, but it is so long ago, that I really do not remember exactly.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
A guy telling me at a book signing the weather on a day I had described in another novel. He told me I was wrong, but later I found out that I was correct – it was only later in the day. (The 17th of May 1945, the first national day in Norway after the German occupation.)

Thank you Gunnar. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch


You can read more about Gunnar Staalesen and his Varg Veum books here: 

Have you read any of the Varg Veum books, in English or another language? What do you think of them? Are you a fan of Nordic Noir? Comments welcome. 

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