Blog tour: Mirror Image by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett

Mirror Image

This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

‘Bergen Private Investigator Varg Veum is perplexed when two wildly different cases cross his desk at the same time.

‘A lawyer, anxious to protect her privacy, asks Varg to find her sister, who has disappeared with her husband, seemingly without trace, while a ship carrying unknown cargo is heading towards the Norwegian coast, and the authorities need answers.

‘Varg immerses himself in the investigations, and it becomes clear that the two cases are linked, and have unsettling – and increasingly uncanny – similarities to events that took place thirty-six years earlier, when a woman and her saxophonist lover drove their car into the sea, in an apparent double suicide.

‘As Varg is drawn into a complex case involving star-crossed lovers, toxic waste and illegal immigrants, history seems determined to repeat itself in perfect detail … and at terrifying cost…’

Mirror Image

In Mirror Image, by Gunnar Staalesen, we follow PI Varg Veum as he pursues two cases: the disappearance of 38-year-old Bodil Breheim and her husband, Fernando Garrido, and a dodgy shipment connected with a company named Trans World Ocean (TWO) – whom Fernando worked for until shortly before he went missing.

The investigations are complicated by Bodil’s family history – despite bringing the job to Varg, her sister Berit is often obstructive, and there are parallels with their mother’s tragic death when they were children – and the hostility of the staff at TWO towards Varg.

Can Varg overcome these obstacles to uncover the truths in these cases?

This is my first Gunnar Staalesen book, and I’d certainly be happy to read more! I didn’t find myself at a disadvantage having not read any of the previous books in the series – I was told all I needed to know along the way, without getting bogged down by backstory.

While Mirror Image was written in 2002 and set in 1993, it feels fresh. I expect this is for a combination of reasons: Don Bartlett’s recent translation, the fact that it deals with issues that are sadly still very relevant 30 years on, and the timelessness of a quality classic detective novel.

Varg may not have access to the technology used by private investigators today, but that adds an extra element of challenge to his cases, and means there’s a lot for the reader to “see” as he’s constantly out and about, talking to interesting characters and snooping around places in person.

This frequent movement gives the novel a real sense of place, as do Varg’s memories of what various places in Bergen used to be. Under a less skilled writer and translater, these could be dreary and/or detract from the main action, but in Mirror Image, they’re interesting and add colour. They also serve to remind you that Varg is not a young man.

I also enjoyed Staalesen’s detailed descriptions of places, particularly interiors, and what Varg deducts from their appearance.

I found the mysteries at the heart of the story intriguing and eerie in their own different ways. There are plenty of twists and surprises that kept me turning the pages.

The italicised flashbacks to 1957 mean that you’re not hearing everything second-hand through Varg and the people he talks to, and therefore get more of a sense of the emotional charge in the air at the time.

Something else I appreciated was Varg’s collaboration with freelance investigative journalist Torunn Tafjord on the TWO case. She’s a smart, capable, and interesting character and, like Varg, I would have loved to spent more time in her company.

Mirror Image is a solid, intriguing, and twisty detective thriller.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK