GUNNAR STAALESEN - author of Mirror Image - Varg Veum Through the Ages

Written by Gunnar Staalesen

This year, the eleventh book in the Varg Veum series, Mirror Image, is published in English. Since the series has been translated out of order, across the years, Orenda Books are now filling the hole in the series. This means that English readers meet a Varg Veum who is younger in this book than he was in Where Roses Never Die and later books in the series, and some years older than he was in the last one translated, Bitter Flowers. Like many other modern fictional detectives, Varg grows older year by year, as we all do. The plan is to publish new books as they come out, to satisfy avid fans, and then go back to plug the holes, to make the series complete. Before long, the entire Varg Veum series will be available in English.

In 1977, when I finished my first book about Bergen PI Varg Veum, the action took place in 1976, and Varg was a young man – just thirty-four years old. The first of the books translated into English is Yours Until Death, when Varg is thirty-five. In Mirror Image the action takes place in 1993, and Varg is fifty-one, still a man in his prime, if you ask me.

Looking back at popular historical detectives, it is true that Sherlock Holmes retired as beekeeper, but Hercule Poirot continued in a career that must have made him 120 years old when he ‘died’! Philip Marlowe aged from thirty-eight to forty-two in the seven books Raymond Chandler wrote about him, though I never registered that Lew Archer aged much all, across Ross Macdonald’s long series. But as we all know, Inspector Rebus had to retire from the police, when he grew too old, but Ian Rankin still managed to find him cases – cold or half-cold – as they might be…

I believe it was the Swedish couple Sjöwall & Wahlöö who seriously introduced the chronologic detective in modern crime fiction in their series about Martin Beck, and many later writers, inspired by the Swedes, have followed this tradition.

When Mirror Image was published in Norway in 2002, it was the first Varg Veum novel in seven years. The previous book was The Writing on the Wall, and in the years between books, I wrote what many see as my main literary work, The Bergen Trilogy – 1600 pages long – where Varg Veum, in the final book, solves a hundred-year-old mystery. When I returned to the series, I had a choice to make. Should I continue as I had before – start the new book more or less in present time? In 2002 Varg would have been sixty, so I decided to keep him younger for a few more years. Therefore I went back to where we left him in The Writing on the Wall, in February 1993, when he was fifty-one. The action in Mirror Image takes place two months after The Writing on the Wall concludes.

In the trilogy, which was a huge bestseller in Norway, Denmark and France, readers learned that Varg Veum had a different father from his ‘official’ one. His secret father was a saxophone player with whom Varg’s mother had a very short affair (a one-night-stand) in January 1942. But … Varg has his real father’s genes in his blood, and this explains his lifelong affinity for listening to jazz. Devoted readers of the series will know that we have produced three CDs with Varg’s favorite music, called Vargtime, with the Jan Kåre Hystad Quartet. You can find them on Spotify, if you’re interested in hearing what Varg loved to listen to in his down time.

In Mirror Image, we are introduced to the Bergen jazz milieu, in two different generations, and the mystery takes place both in the present and in the past – the premise being that Varg must solve a case in which a historic case is mirrored almost exactly.

In 2002, Norwegian readers were thrilled to meet Varg Veum again, and the book earned me my second Golden Revolver – the prestigious Norwegian Riverton Prize for best crime novel that year. In 2012, when he turned seventy, Varg Veum himself received a Golden Revolver, as the first and only fictional character to be given that honour (and I was honoured too!).

In my opinion, Varg is still a man in his prime and this year the twentieth book in the series will be published in Norway. The action takes place in 2004, and Varg is sixty-two – almost thirty years older than when Norwegian readers met him for the first time, and nearly fifty years since that first book was published. I can assure you, however, that Varg has no plans to become a beekeeper – nor retire. And he’s definitely still younger than Hercule Poirot!

Every year we celebrate the birthday of Varg Veum, passing the sculpture of him on our way up to the bar in the first floor of the building where he has had his office since 1976. The date is 15 October, and this year we will mark the day as twenty-book jubilee, with the Vargtime quartet playing and this writer reading from the new book – and some of the older ones. If you are in Bergen that day, you are welcome to Strandkaien 2. Be my guest, and Varg’s!


Gunnar Staalesen
Bergen, July 2023


Widely regarded as one of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Gunnar Staalesen is one of Norway’s bestselling authors and the Varg Veum series has sold over five million copies worldwide. Mirror Image, translated by Don Bartlett, is published by Orenda Books on 31st August 2023.

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Gunnar Staalesen

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