It’s possible that I just picked an inopportune time to read the second book in the Detective Varg series; I enjoyed the first one, but hoo boy, reading The Talented Mr. Varg was about as much fun as the time I got lost in a nondescript Stockholm suburb trying to find IKEA (true story).
A send-up of brutal Swedish noir, the Varg novels chronicle the Department of Sensitive Crimes, a division of the Malmö police which deals with the sort of minor mysteries Mma Ramotswe investigates at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. That’s obviously not a problem for me, as I’ve read all 20 of those books, but The Talented Mr. Varg spends too little time solving puzzles in favor of meandering digressions about Swedish-Russian relations, bridge construction, dog behavior, prostate problems, tattoos, electric razors…
“Those razors. I have one. It’s waterproof, you know. Well, you can’t put the whole thing in the water—you wouldn’t put the body bit—but you can certainly put the heads under the tap. They have a tap symbol on them, you see, and that’s how you tell whether your electric razor is waterproof or not.” This is said by a colleague of Varg’s known for “his strange world of rambling association,” but all too often, the whole book feels like a series of rambling associations.
The polar opposite of Varg is Cara Black’s Three Hours in Paris, which provides pulse-pounding excitement from first page to last. Here I must insert a disclaimer stating that Cara is a friend of mine, someone I would regularly meet up with for espresso in the Before Times, but I’m confident I would have enjoyed this book even if I hadn’t known her to be a supremely kind, generous and thoughtful person.
In the book’s first 25 pages, American sniper Kate Rees loses her naval officer husband and baby daughter in a Luftwaffe attack (she met her husband, a Welshman, while she was studying in Paris, and moved with him to the Orkney Islands). Vowing revenge on the Germans, Kate’s incredible skill as a markswoman, thanks to a youth spent learning to hunt on a ranch in rural Oregon, cause her to be recruited by British intelligence. She is sent to Paris to assassinate Hitler. She fails, obviously—this book doesn’t take place in an alternate timeline where Hitler is bumped off in 1940—but there are still 325 pages to go, and there are thrills, spills and close calls aplenty. Fans of spy novels, World War II history, Paris, or strong and resourceful female heroines will all find something to like in this book.