‘Big Sister’ spoiler-free review!

Hey everyone! Today is my stop on the blog tour for Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen.


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What the book is about…

Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her apartment in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then, no-one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously. Veumโ€™s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal.


What I thought of it…

There’s a good story here. There were a lot of seemingly random threads that I struggled to follow at first, but the way they were brought together at the end was very clever and satisfying, and I enjoyed the direction in which the author took things.

I felt like the story had a bit of a false start. It opened with a bang but then severely cut the pace and took forever to get going again. Indeed, the book wasn’t really holding my interest until about halfway through. However, in spite of the slow start, I did find it fairly easy to keep going with this one thanks to the short chapters. It was always a case of ‘just one more chapter’ and before you know it, you’ve read 10!

I appreciated that there wasn’t a lot of waffle about the previous books in the series (this is the first one I’ve read and I wasn’t really bothered about all the backstory). Big Sister worked well as a standalone and didn’t need unnecessary filler about Veum’s past. Perhaps I might have felt more of a connection with the main character if I had read the series from the beginning but I don’t intend to go back and find out (so many books, so little time!)

The inclusion of Scandinavian names and places helped to add a great deal of authenticity to this book, which I liked. I had no clue how to pronounce them but they added an extra dimension to the setting! There was a muted tone to the descriptions of Bergen that worked really well for the story.

This book did feel quite tame compared to other Scandinavian crime thrillers I’ve read, but it had an interesting plot and some nice imagery scattered throughout. Perhaps if the likes of Jo Nesbo are too gritty for you, give this one a try. Personally, I like a bit more blood in my thrillers!

So while I liked the premise behind this one, the execution, unfortunately, fell a little flat for me. I couldn’t really connect with the narrative voice but I don’t know if that’s an issue on the author’s part or the translator’s (or indeed my own). Some sentences felt slightly unnatural, like perhaps they had been translated literally and not formed into better English? I also felt like there was a lot of telling rather than showing but, again, I don’t know if something has perhaps been lost in translation. Clearly, this author is very popular, having written more than 20 books, so it’s also possible I just wasn’t in the right headspace while reading it.


In summary…


  • Interesting plot with a clever final twist
  • Short chapters
  • Authentic Scandinavian detail
  • Some nice imagery



  • Slow pace
  • No connection with the main character
  • Issues with translation?


Overall, I gave this one 3/5 stars because I did like the story. I just didn’t connect with it as I had hoped – but maybe you will! I’ve tried to give a balanced review so that you can make up your own mind whether this is one you’d be interested in or not ๐Ÿ™‚


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What Scandinavian thrillers have you read?ย 


One thought on “‘Big Sister’ spoiler-free review!

  1. Pingback: June Wrap-Up! (In which I devour the most books I’ve ever read in a single month) | the paperback piano

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