For a reader new to Liza Marklund’s books, it is difficult to decide where start. The first book featuring her protagonist Annika Bengtzon is The Bomber which is set in the present day. However, the series then scrolls back in time to give Annika’s back story and it is only with the fifth book, Red Wolf, that we catch up with the present. In the end, I decided to start with Vanished, which has at its heart an unusual premise. I wasn’t disappointed and I’ll certainly be reading more in this series.
Annika Bengtzon is a journalist at a newspaper in Stockholm. We discover that she has been marginalised by her colleagues as the result of an incident where she killed her abusive husband. Although Annika was found not-guilty of manslaughter, the stigma of the case refuses to go away. The paper’s lead story is of the murder of two men in a freight terminal near a derelict port. Police suspect the involvement of the Yugoslav mafia and are seeking a woman, Aida, who was seen fleeing from the scene. Meanwhile, Annika gets a phone call from Rebecka, who claims that she has set up an organisation that allows her to erase the identity of women who are fleeing abusers. She can eliminate all traces of their tax, medical and social security records for a nominal fee. But when Annika starts digging further, she realises that facts cannot be checked and sources are suggesting that The Paradise Foundation is not all that it seems.
This is a substantial book and although the length at first seemed a little off-putting, it allowed for a well-constructed murder plot and also for a significant part of the story to be given over to Annika’s personal life. Annika meets in the course of her job, Thomas, a stuffy local government official. But we soon see that he has a sterile marriage and wants to widen his horizons. I suppose for those familiar with the series, it was clear what would happen to the relationship but I enjoyed not knowing whether the initial fling would develop further. It was in these scenes that I found the character of Annika irritating. She sleeps with a married man and then gets upset when he doesn’t call and is neurotic about the whole relationship. However the scenes with Annika’s dysfunctional family suggest where her insecurities stem from.
The idea of a foundation that can erase people’s identities is an interesting one and I had no problem believing that organisations such as local authorities could fall for such scams on a large-scale. The Yugoslavian mafia angle passed me by a little, and although an important element in the crime story, for me it was the least interesting part of the novel.
A very enjoyable book and I seem to be back onto a Scandinavian noir reading frenzy. Clearly the cold weather in the UK is affecting my reading choices.
I bought my copy of this book. It originally appeared in English as ‘Paradise’ and this a new translation by Neil Smith. Other reviews can be found at Nordic Bookblog and The Little Reader Library. Crimescraps has a useful post about the chronology of the series.