One dark January night a car drives at high speed towards PI Varg Veum, and comes very close to killing him. Veum is certain this is no accident, following so soon after the deaths of two jailed men who were convicted for their participation in a case of child pornography and sexual assault … crimes that Veum himself once stood wrongly accused of committing.
While the guilty men were apparently killed accidentally, Varg suspects that there is something more sinister at play … and that he’s on the death list of someone still at large.
Fearing for his life, Veum begins to investigate the old case, interviewing the victims of abuse and delving deeper into the brutal crimes, with shocking results. The wolves are no longer in the dark … they are at his door. And they want vengeance.
Biskopshavn Church was built in 1966, doubtless to meet the need for
ecclesiastic activity among the fast-growing population of Ytre Sandviken in the 1950s and 1960s. It was shaped like a boatshed and perched
attractively on the top of a crag above the actual Biskopshavn, the bishop’s harbour, which was mentioned as early as in the 1200s, in Snorre’s
The parish registry was in the east of the church,
wolves at the door 47
He set the cup down again and nodded. ‘Yes, one of the employees
here told me. Neither of them was a regular churchgoer, so they were
new to me.’ He paused. ‘I tried discreetly to ask his wife if there was
anything she wanted to talk to me about – as we do on such occasions:
ask if there’s anything people want the priest to emphasise in his speech.
Personal memories, something about the deceased’s character and
personality. But there was nothing. She was very upset by the death,
it seemed, and the result was an extremely brief mention of Haugen
before we went on with the standard texts and rounded off the ceremony. She didn’t even want to choose the psalms, so the organist and
I selected some of the more usual ones.’
‘There weren’t many people in church, I understand.’
‘No. Fru Haugen had her brother with her, fortunately. He seemed
like a reliable sort. Otherwise there was no one from the family. Just
a few others. A couple of neighbours perhaps. An ex-colleague.’ He
smiled wryly. ‘We don’t exactly do a roll-call, so this is just my interpretation of who they might’ve been.’
It was my turn to taste the coffee.
‘You’re a private investigator, you said. Does this mean that there’s
something suspicious about the death?’
‘Let me put it like this: there have been two deaths among three
men convicted of possessing sexual images of children. These are cases
that arouse strong emotions in people. Child abuse – you can hardly
imagine anything worse.’
‘No.’ He looked at me sadly. ‘It’s so far from what we can imagine.
Have you got any children?’
‘A grown-up son and a small grandchild. But they live in Oslo.’
‘As a priest you have an insight into so many lives. Even if we have no
Catholic customs such as confession in the Norwegian church, it does
happen that some people come to the priest with their confessions. If
you have no one else to confide in, a priest may be the very last resort.
During my career I’ve met people with a need to confess something or
other. Some of them have admitted the kind of thing we’re talking about
now. Their urges were simply too strong for them and they preyed on
children who were close to them. Their own, the neighbours’, the children they met in connection with sport, a variety of situations. But
precisely because of the closeness to the victims it’s harder to bear when
it – in some cases – comes out. Imagine a small village or a suburb of a
town, a sports team. You’re exposed forever. You’ll never be the same
again, neither in your own, nor in others’ eyes. For many there’s only
one way out.’ He heaved a sigh and said no more.
‘You’re referring to … suicide?’
‘And that might also be what happened to Haugen?’
‘Of course you have a point. But the circumstances and this second
death … I don’t know … In fact it’s described as suicide by the police.
In Haugen’s case the incident was shelved as an accident. My problem
is, however, that I think these two deaths are conspicuously close in
time, and there may be a common motive behind both of them.’
‘Thou hast seen all their vengeance.’
‘Lamentations: chapter three, verse sixty.’
‘Exactly. As I said earlier. Strong emotions.’
‘But I don’t think I can help you in this particular case, Veum.’
‘Never mind. Thank you for your time.’
On my way out of Biskopshavn Church and down to where I had
parked the Corolla I drew a black line through my hypothesis that
Bjarte Nyland could be the unknown pastor in this, for the time being,
somewhat nebulous mystery. I would have to pursue my investigations
elsewhere. Top of the list was Per Haugen’s children.
Thank you, Gunnar Staalesen and Random Things Tours.
About the author
One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Gunnar Staalesen was born in
Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with
Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg
Veum series. He is the author of over twenty-three titles, which have been
published in twenty-six countries and sold over five million copies. Twelve film
adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring
the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim, and a further series is
currently being filmed. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including
the Prize of Honour) and the Petrona Award, and been shortlisted for the CWA
Dagger, lives in Bergen with his wife.