Review: Alexander Söderberg – The Andalucian Friend

AFThe Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg is a book that’s been garnering a lot of attention in the run-up to its publication. And it’s easy to see why. It’s written by a new Scandinavian writer, is the first of a trilogy and is a thriller with a mix of organised crime and corrupt police. I was looking forward to reading it – I’m not immune from the buzz that accompanies new books – and with some reservations I did enjoy it.

Sophie Brinkmann is a nurse who meets Hector Guzman in hospital and is charmed by his attentions. However, Hector is the head of an international criminal gang whose operations in drugs and weapons trafficking extends from Sweden to Africa and South America. But their Swedish based organisation is under threat from a German syndicate who want to encroach on their territory. The police’s National Crime team are watching the power struggle play out. Headed by the powerful Gunilla Strandberg she recruits Sophie to inform on her relationship with Hector. But the police are also spying on Sophie, having installed surveillance equipment in her house, lone cop Lars Vinge watches her movements. But Lars is an addict and his attitude towards Sophie begins to spill into obsession. Meanwhile, Sophie’s ex-boyfriend Jens, a freelance arms trader becomes sucked into the drama.

This is a substantial book, running to nearly 500 pages and a lot happens. The international crime element is well plotted and satisfyingly complex. There’s a brutal feel to the action; you get a sense of fear and suspicion amongst the protagonists which allows mistakes and violence to flourish. By far the best drawn character is that of the nurse Sophie Brinkman. As a widow with a teenage son she is lonely and attracted to the kindness shown by Hector. He invites her to meet his family and yet, almost immediately she has to face the reality of his criminal activities. The other excellent character is Lars, the addict policeman with a violent and obsessive streak. He proves to be the catalyst of a number of plot twists and turns that add an air unexpectedness to the book.

There a lot of positives and yet I can’t quite see what all the fuss was about. It’s difficult to put into words without giving too much of the plot away. Much of what I found difficult about the novel comes towards the latter part of the novel. There’s so much happening that you’re left feeling dazed and struggling to keep up with the action. This is likely to be a major attraction for some readers but didn’t appeal to me. So many people began to die I wondered where the series could go in future books. However, that said, I’ll almost certainly read more of this writer, not least because of the excellent characterisation.

Thanks to Karen from Eurocrime who gave me her copy of the book. The translation from the original Swedish, which was of high quality as usual, was by Neil Smith.

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21 thoughts on “Review: Alexander Söderberg – The Andalucian Friend

  1. Sarah – I know what you mean about having too much going on. That can make it hard to keep up and hard to savour the story. I’m glad you found some things to like about the story though and the characters sound interesting.

  2. So, you have a nurse who is also a widow and a single mum, whose ex was an arms trader, whose new interest is a crime lord and who’s being tracked by an obsessive lone policeman and made to spy on her new man. My goodness she’s had an eventful life. Although you’ve pointed me in the direction of quite a few modern crime novels, I don’t think I’ll be trying this one. Sounds far too depressing…

    • That’s a very good précis Anwen, diolch. I’m glad you were paying attention. Yes, I have to admit I didn’t think this one would be for you….

  3. I agree with Anwen’s comment re: Sophie’s eventful life (I think the ex who was an arms trader stuck out for me the most), but I will admit I’m more likely to watch a movie version of this than read the book. I think that’s because the movie is less of a time commitment.

    • I think this is odds on for a movie Rebecca. It’s probably one of the reasons there’s such a buzz about it. I think it will appeal to those who like international thrillers etc.

  4. I was surprised to see that this novel (as a debut) was getting such attention. And a quote that I saw (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets The Sopranos.”) did not excite me at all. Thus I was glad to see you were going to review it. I have to echo other comments… Glad I can just wait and see on this one. And I also agree with Rebecca. I like this kind of story in a movie better. Thanks for the review.

  5. I think I’ll pass on this one. You wrote a very good review, and so I have determined that I’ll not add to the TBR mountain range here.

  6. Pingback: The Best of March’s Reading | crimepieces

  7. I’ve got a copy of this one but I’m feeling quite daunted by the prospect of starting it I have to say! It sounds very complex. Your review has reinforced my suspicions that there might be a bit too much going on. I will let you know my thoughts when I get around to tackling it.

  8. The problems I had with this book were: First, tfrom the first twenty or so pages, I knew the nurse was going to be at the center of a tremendous train wreck, five hundred pages later. Second, unlike Steig Larsson, who gave us multiple compelling and likable characters: Lisbeth, Mickael, Erika — Soderberg didn’t.
    Elizabeth Hand, whose main character is a drug-ridden alcoholic, gives us a compelling character.

    I just discovered your site. I’ll be following.

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Sheppard. I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Hand’s too and I love her characters. I don’t think I liked Steig Larsson as much as you but I agree that the characters are fleshed out better than in The Andalucian Friend.

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