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September 1977. Mette Misvær, a three-year-old girl, disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordas is devastated, but their enquiries and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found. Almost 25 years later, as the expiration date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette’s mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge. Chilling, shocking and full of extraordinary twists and turns, Where Roses Never Die reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost crime thriller writers.
About the Author
Gunnar Staalesen published the first Varg Veum book in 1977. He is the author of more than 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold more than four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen where there is is a life-sized statue of Varg Veum in the city center. Don Barlett has translated books by Jo Nesbø', Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Per Petterson.
Read an Excerpt
Where Roses Never Die
By Gunnar Staalesen, Don Bartlett
Orenda BooksCopyright © 2012 Gunnar Staalesen
All rights reserved.
There are days in your life when you are barely present, and today was one of those. I was sitting behind my desk, half-cut and half-asleep, when I heard a shot from the other side of Vågen, the bay in Bergen. Not long afterwards I heard the first police sirens, although there was no reason to assume this would ever be a case that might involve me. By the time I had eventually staggered to my feet and made it to the window, it was all over.
Reading the newspapers the following day, I found out most of what had gone on, the rest I learned in dribs and drabs.
Afterwards they were universally referred to as the Shell Suit Robbers. There were just two customers in the exclusive jewellery shop in Bryggen when, at 15.23 on Friday, 7th December 2001, the door swung open and three heavily armed individuals, wearing balaclavas and dressed in what are informally known as BBQ suits, burst into the premises.
The two customers, an older woman and a younger one, cowered in the corner. In addition to the customers there were two female assistants in the shop. The owner was in the back room. He'd hardly had time to look up before one robber was standing in the doorway and pointing a sawn-off shotgun at him. He said in what was supposed to be English: 'Don't move yourself! The first person who presses an alarm button are shot!'
One of the robbers took up a position by the front door with an automatic weapon hanging down at thigh-height and kept lookout. The third opened a big bag, gave it to the assistant in front of the display cabinets and pointed a gun at her. He spoke in English too: 'Fill up!'
The assistant objected: 'They're locked!'
'But I'll have to get ...' She motioned to the counter.
'Move, move, move!'
She cast a glance at the other assistant, who nodded resigned agreement. Then she opened a drawer behind the counter, took out a bunch of keys and went back to the display cabinets.
The robber in front of her directed a glance at the door: 'Everything OK?'
The robber posted there nodded mutely.
The robber by the office door intoned the same message: 'Move!'
The jewellery-shop owner shouted: 'You have no idea what you're doing! All our items are registered internationally. No one will buy the most expensive pieces.'
'Shut up!' The robber pointed to a safe in the wall. 'Open.'
'I haven't got ...'
The robber rushed forward and held the rifle to his head. 'Open. If you ...'
Sweat poured from the jeweller's forehead. 'Yes, alright ... Don't ...' He swivelled the office chair and rolled it towards the safe. 'I just have to ... the code.' He put a finger to his brow to show how hard he was trying to remember.
'You know. Don't make me to laugh.'
'Yes, but when I'm nervous ...'
'You soon have even more reason to be nervous if you ...'
The robber tapped the safe door with the weapon, and the owner stretched out his right hand and with trembling fingers started to turn the lock and enter the code.
Inside the shop the older of the two assistants opened a display cabinet. She took out the watches one by one and carefully placed them in the bag, so slowly that the robber impatiently pushed her aside and began to scoop watches of all price ranges into the bag while shouting orders: 'Open the other cabinets! And you ...' He looked at the assistant by the counter. 'All the drawers! At the bottom also.'
In the back room, the safe was open. The robber brutally shoved the jeweller out of the way and emptied the safe contents on to the work table. Papers and documents were sent flying to the floor. With a triumphant flourish, he held up a box of eight diamond-studded watches. The owner eyed him with an expression of despair.
The robber stuffed the box into a shoulder bag. Then he grabbed a wad of notes from the back of the safe and in they went too. 'Black money, eh?'
'Cash reserves,' the jeweller mumbled bitterly.
The robber backed towards the door and glanced out into the shop. 'Everything OK?'
The robber by the front door nodded. The other one was busy emptying the drawers from the counter. 'Just a moment.'
The robber who had been in the back room swung the sawn-off shotgun from the jeweller, to the two customers and finally to the older of the two assistants. 'Don't you move yourselves. The first person who presses the alarm button are shot.' He was still standing in the doorway with a view of the back room. 'Finished?' he said to the man behind the counter.
'That's it now.'
The robber by the front door leaned on the handle and glanced across the shop for instructions. The robber in the back room nodded, the front door was opened and with their weapons at the ready they dashed out.
That was when it happened.
None of the four women saw what went wrong. Other witnesses, on the pavement and around the quay on the other side of the street, could only relay fragments of what they thought they had observed. A passing motorist was convinced he had seen everything, 'from the corner of his eye', as he later put it.
As the robbers were making their getaway they must have collided with a man on the pavement. The man yelled, there was a second or two of silence, then further words were exchanged and a shot was fired, the man was hurled backwards and crashed on to the pavement, blood spurting from his chest, near his heart.
The three robbers hotfooted it across the street, sprinted along the harbour front and threw the bags into a small, white plastic boat waiting for them by the quay. An engine roared and the little boat, foam spraying over its bows, hurtled across Vågen, where eye-witnesses saw it disappear around the tip of Nordnes peninsula soon afterwards.
In the shop, the owner appeared from the backroom door. With sagging shoulders he said: 'I've rung the alarm.'
The younger of the two customers was the next to speak.
'That one by the door ... I'm pretty sure ... that one was a woman.'
Five minutes later the first police officers arrived, alerted by radio that a full-scale search was under way in the whole district.
The case was to become something of a mystery. I followed it only desultorily in the newspapers, and on radio and TV; first of all it was breaking news, then it was relegated to the back pages. There was more interest locally than nationally, but here too it wound up in semi-obscurity, as do most unsolved crimes, until something new is revealed and they become front-page news again.
The greatest mystery was how the robbers could have vanished. After the boat had powered round Nordnes peninsula it was never seen again. At the time in question, on a cold, blustery December day, there were not many people out walking in Nordnes Park, and no witnesses came forward, either from there or anywhere else along Puddefjorden. It did seem as if the thieves had literally vanished into thin air.
The police searched all the quays from Georgenes Verft, the shipyard, and beyond, past Nøstet, Dokken and Møhlenpris, as far as Solheimsviken and from there to the Lyreneset promontory in Laksevåg, without turning up anything of any value. They went through the list of stolen boats in the region with a toothcomb. The ones they eventually found, they crossed off the list, but as late as March, three months after the robbery, there were still some that had not been located. It was the same story with the list of stolen cars. The general assumption was that the robbers must have come ashore somewhere in Nordnes or Laksevåg, transferred the booty to a car and driven off. Under such circumstances thieves often used a stolen vehicle and later set fire to it, after switching to their own cars. But no cars had been torched, to the police's knowledge, during that period – neither on the 7th December nor the following days.
What made the case especially serious was the murder. After a couple of days the dead man's name was released. Nils Bringeland was my age, fifty-nine years old, ran a little company in Bryggen and from all the indications seemed to have been no more than a casual passer-by. He left behind a partner and three children, two of them from an earlier marriage.
The case received broad media coverage, locally and nationally, for the first few days after the robbery. The shop owner, Bernhard Schmidt, was interviewed widely. He said his business had been run on the same premises for three generations since his grandfather, Wilhelm Schmidt, set it up from scratch in 1912. Bernhard Schmidt took the shop over from his father in 1965. There had been minor thefts, and in 1973 there was an attempted break-in through the backyard, but this was the first time in the company's history that they had experienced anything as dramatic as a robbery. He wouldn't divulge to the press the value of the items that had been stolen, but other sources speculated the figure lay somewhere between five hundred thousand and a million Norwegian kroner, perhaps even more. Neither the police nor the insurance company wished to comment on this aspect of the case.
The two female shop assistants were also interviewed, anonymously, but they had nothing of any importance to add, apart from the trauma of the experience. The younger of the two customers, Liv Grethe Heggvoll, appeared in the press with her full name. She and her mother had been in the shop looking for a fiftieth-birthday present, and they were as shocked as the shop employees by what they had witnessed. Asked by journalists whether she had noticed anything special about the robbers, she answered they had spoken English with what she considered was a Norwegian, or maybe an Eastern European, accent. 'What's more,' she added, 'I'm positive one of them was a woman.'
This information was later taken up by the police. They said it wastoo early to know whether this might have been an itinerant gang of professional robbers, but they were keeping all their avenues of inquiry open. As for the possibility of a woman being involved, they had no comment to make. The conspicuous get-ups – the so-called 'BBQ shell suits' – were discussed in several newspapers. The three suits were identical in colour and design: dark green with white stripes down the sleeves. Pictures of a similar style were everywhere, although the police refused to comment on whether they'd had any response from the general public.
As the investigation ground to a halt there was less and less to read about the case. There was no reason for me to give it a moment's thought. I had my own daily demons to fight at that time. I was on the longest and darkest marathon of my life, and it was still a long way to the tape.CHAPTER 2
The assignment I received on that Monday in March would perhaps turn out to be the most important I'd ever had, not least for my own sake. It was the first sign of light at the end of a tunnel that was much longer than I cared to admit.
The three years that had passed since Karin died had been like an endless wandering on the seabed. I had seen the most incredible creatures, some of them so frightening I had woken up bathed in sweat every time one appeared in my dreams. Enormous octopuses stretched out their long tentacles towards me, but they never managed to hold on to me. Monstrous monkfish forced me into jagged nooks and crannies, placed a knee on my crotch and emptied my pockets of valuables. Tiny fish floated by enticingly, their tails in the air, but were gone before I had managed to reach out a hand to grab them. A rare sea rose opened for me, drew me in and afterwards extracted its levy in the form of unpleasant after-effects and dwindling self-respect.
It was a life in darkness; I had difficulty seeing clearly down there. The only thing that kept me going was the consolation I found in all the bottles I stumbled over. None of them lay around long enough for green algae to form.
The millennium had passed and Doomsday had not arrived. Nostradamus had been wrong; so had St John and those who still believed in his revelations. Not even the IT experts who had prophesied the Y2K crisis had been proved right. No computer systems collapsed, the world continued on its wayward course with no further changes to our everyday lives, except that we had to write a '2' at the beginning of the year.
As for me, I spent the last days of 1999 delving into a hundred-year-old murder mystery, and when New Year's Eve came, like so many other Bergensians, I walked half-way up a mountain in pouring rain and watched the New Year rockets disappear from sight in the low cloud cover, never, it seemed, to return to earth again. Afterwards I trudged down to my flat in Telthussmauet, where I celebrated the arrival of a new millennium in the company of a bottle of aquavit.
The first two years of the new century passed more or less unnoticed, apart from the dramatic events of 11th September 2001 on the eastern seaboard of America. New Year 2002 didn't seem to be ringing in any great changes either, not in my life nor in the world beyond. It had just become even more burdensome to fly. An old lady with a heart defect and a tube of ointment in her hand luggage would create longer queues at the security check, and if she couldn't produce ID she was denied access to her plane. Apart from that, most things were the same.
The woman who came to see me that Monday in March was of the gentle sort. She tapped several times on the waiting-room door, then I heard her open it and venture in. I had plenty of time to screw on the top, put the bottle into a desk drawer, drain the glass, rinse it in the sink and place it tidily on the shelf under the mirror, before turning, walking to the door between the waiting room and the office, opening it wide, swaying in the doorway and saying, 'Yes?'
She met my eyes with trepidation. 'Are you ... Veum?'
I nodded, stepped aside and ushered her in: 'This way.'
She was about my age, perhaps a bit younger, but I definitely put her in the late fifties. Her hair was lank, and it was some weeks since she had been to the hairdresser's. The grey was clearly visible at the roots of her hair, in the parting on the left of her head. Her choice of clothing didn't suggest she was out to make a winning first impression, either. She was wearing a classic, moss-green windproof jacket, brown trousers and flat shoes. The red in her scarf was the only colour to brighten her appearance. In her hand she was carrying a suede bag big enough to contain whatever she might need in terms of everyday accessories. Her skin was pale, her nose small, across the bridge a patch of freckles was just visible, and her face had a sad air about it, which immediately revealed she was struggling with a problem, perhaps several. But most of the people who came to visit me were. Why else would they come?
She glanced around shyly as she stepped into the office. I held out my hand and introduced myself properly. She told me her name: Maja Misvær.
I directed her to the client's chair. No one else apart from me had sat there for many weeks. I walked round the desk, slumped down into the swivel chair, unfurled the gentlest expression I could muster and asked: 'How can I help you?'
She looked at me gloomily, as if the word help didn't exist in her world. I could see my own face in hers, as though I was gazing into a mirror, the way it must have appeared to others over the last three years. Six months after Karin's death I had walked in the funeral cortege for my old school friend, Paul Finckel. One of my oldest friends, and best sources of information in Bergen's newspaper world, he had switched off his computer for good, without saving the contents for posterity. A newly employed colleague had taken it over before the corpse was cold. I felt my own demise had edged a step closer, like autumn announcing its arrival one frosty night in September. One by one they were leaving us, my old classmates. Soon there would only be a handful of us left. In the end, there would be none.
'D-do you remember a little girl called Mette?'
At first I didn't understand what she was talking about. 'Mette? I don't know that I ...'
'She went missing in September 1977.'
Then a light came on. 'Ah, you mean that Mette.'
Two Bergen children had gone missing in the 1970s. Both disappearances had shaken the local community and had initially kept the media busy, before being put on a back burner. In fact, I had helped to solve one of the cases, the 1979 one, some eight years later. The other case had never, to my knowledge, been cleared up. It became known as 'The Mette Case'.
'But I don't quite remember ... when was it you said?'
'17th September 1977.'
I did some swift mental arithmetic: 1987, 1997, 2002. In six months the case would be time-barred, if someone had killed her, that is, and anything else was barely conceivable, bearing in mind how thorough the investigation had been. 'And Mette, she was ...?'
'Yes, she is my daughter.'
I noted the change of tense. 'Could you ... It's so long ago ... Could you refresh my memory about ... the details?'
She heaved a sigh, but nodded assent. 'I can try. What I remember of it and what ... I know.'CHAPTER 3
The barely three-year-old Mette Misvær disappeared from her home in Solstølvegen in Nordås on Saturday 17th September, in the short space of time between twelve o'clock and a quarter past.
'I was at home, busy with housework. Mette was sitting in a sandpit right outside the kitchen window. I kept peering out at regular intervals, but when she disappeared I was busy taking clothes out of the washing machine and putting them in the tumble dryer. As soon as I emerged from the laundry room I went to the window to check on Mette ...'
Excerpted from Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen, Don Bartlett. Copyright © 2012 Gunnar Staalesen. Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well-written and effectively translated. The novel has an interesting plot with a number of twists and a memorable cast of characters. I enjoyed it!
Suspenseful, intriguing and chilling - words that come instantly to mind when describing this gripping book - I thoroughly enjoyed "Where Roses Never Die" the 18th instalment in the Norwegian series featuring private investigator Varg Veum. This series has been around for many, many years and is obviously very successful to get to book number 18! Quite easily read as a standalone too, as this was my first venture into the series, I had no problems grasping Varg's history and with individual storylines to each book these make for fabulous and intriguing reading. In September 1977, three year old Mette Misvaer disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her family home. In a last ditch attempt before the statue of limitations comes into force, Mette's mother hires Varg in a desperate plea to find out what actually happened to her twenty five years ago. Can Varg break through the secrets and lies that have stayed hidden for so long and can he discover the truth behind Mette's disappearance. As a mother myself, the storyline is one you most fear as a parent but it was handled diplomatically without distressing the reader. Three years after the death of his long term girlfriend, Varg is still a broken-hearted mess, reliant on alcohol and the odd P.I. job to pay the bills. Flawed, but very likeable I couldn't help but fall in love with his character and his perseverance in getting to the truth and breaking people down to reveal their innermost secrets. It did take me a while to get used to the characters names and how they all fitted into the story but once I did the story flowed seamlessly at a steady pace, thick with intrigue and was very easy to follow. Written by hugely talented Gunnar Staalesen and expertly translated by Don Bartlett I can't recommend this book enough, a shocking, outstanding plot that's traditional and classic and keeps the reader guessing till the very end. LOVED it!! 5 stars
Varg Veum is back with a cold case that has strange ties to the present. It’s been almost 25 years since 3 year old Mette Misvaer went missing from her yard. With the statute of limitations looming, her mother Maja asks Veum to take one final crack at finding the truth. It would be a welcome paycheque but before he signs on, Veum will need to make a few changes to his lifestyle. In the 3 years since his partner died, his only relationship has been with a bottle. If he can put the Aquavit back on the shelf, he might find some answers & perhaps a little self respect along the way. The book opens with an armed robbery of a jewelry store In Bergen. As the masked thieves flee the scene, a pedestrian is fatally shot. Police are unable to find or identify the culprits & the case is soon sliding toward the unsolved stack. What’s the connection? Well, you’ll have to sit yourself down & ride shotgun with Veum to find out how this one thread is elegantly woven into the main story. It’s not easy tracking down those who were part of Mette’s world. Some have moved on, same have died, some have secrets they’ll do anything to protect. But Veum is a persistent guy & his relentless questions soon unveil more mysteries than he bargained for. Staalesen excels at telling stories that are intricate & plausible. There are no bolts from the blue or hastily constructed endings. Every piece of the puzzle is uncovered through persistent digging & there’s almost an audible click as each slides into place on the way to a satisfying end. Violence is kept to a minimum as he chooses to employ Veum’s brains rather than brawn to find answers. It’s a refreshing take on the P.I. genre & more believable given he’s now a man of “a certain age”. He’s not exactly the poster child for healthy living & doesn’t bounce back quite as easily. Instead, he relies on quick thinking & a well placed verbal jab when trouble comes knocking. Veum is a complex, fully developed character who may seem to fit the hardboiled stereotype at first glance. But as you spend time with him, it’s his introspection & compassion that will stay with you. He’s not a bad person, just a lost soul doing the best he can. It’s a gritty & poignant story that flows at a steady pace until the jaw-droppers begin at the 3/4 mark. You’ll find yourself thinking about the nature of secrets, how they never really go away but just hibernate. And the longer they are hidden, the more powerful they become. It’s also a cautionary example of how easily we judge based on someone’s appearance or reputation. If you get to a place where you’re putting out book #18, you’re doing something right. Probably several things, as is the case with this author. His Bergen based PI has become a benchmark in the genre who fans have been following for 40 years & this is a clever, absorbing addition to the series. And hey, if you’re ever in Bergen, stop by & have your picture taken with Veum’s statue outside the Strand hotel near the fish market. He’s a looker.