Poor Annika Bengstrom. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse (house up in flames and husband off with another woman) her estranged ex is now fighting for custody of the kids. Of course it’s Annika’s mix of vulnerability and determination that makes her such as fascinating read and I was delighted when Liza Marklund’s latest book Lifetime came through my door. And as I’ve come to expect from Marklund you get much more than simple murder plot and it’s the diversions that you take in the story that make her books such an interesting read.
David Lindholm is a nationally renowned police officer who is found murdered in his apartment. His wife, Julia, who is found splattered with blood in the bathroom is arrested as the chief suspect. However the couple’s four-year-old son, Alexander, is missing and Julia claims that he was taken by ‘the other woman’. Soon Julia is indicted for murder and even her close friend, police officer Nina Hoffman, is convinced of her guilt. However, Annika, soon scents something amiss about the case. Despite his fame, David Lindholm had a nasty streak to his character and there are some anomalies in his past investigations. His serial philandering also appears to have produced a stalker who may hold the key to the case.
In Lifetime, we move away from the broad sweep of Last Will, which had as its backdrop the Nobel Prize ceremony. This time, we get what appears to be a domestic tragedy which although opens out to involve David’s job, the extent of the human tragedy is never lost. The turbulent domestic life of the victims mirrors Annika’s own problems. She is now homeless and looks for help in finding a temporary place to stay. And of course the people who might help, in particular her friend Anna, come remarkably short of the mark. Even in the direst situations, she manages to find the strength to keep working and digging away at a story. She’s far from perfect: her treatment of a junior colleague is cruel but Annika’s prickly defensiveness is part of her makeup. And her desperation is all to real – which includes agreeing to babysit her children at the house of her husband’s mistress.
There’s a lot in this book apart from the killings. Annika’s newspaper is facing staff cuts and it’s fascinating to read about the internal machinations, including the work of the union rep. There is also an interesting link to the last book and the continuation of the story of that novel’s killer. However, ultimately Annika is the reason, I suspect, a lot of people read Marklund’s books and I think she fast becoming one of my favourite characters in crime fiction.
Thanks to Transworld for the copy of my book. The translation was by Neil Smith.
Liza Marklund was one of my finds of last year. The excellent Vanished, featuring reporter Annika Bengtzon was a well-paced intelligent thriller with an interesting protagonist. As I mentioned in my post, the series has been both written and translated out of chronological order which can make it confusing for the reader. However, a useful guide to the series can be found at the blog, Crimescraps and as my latest read Last Will shows, each book can easily be read as a standalone.
At the end of Vanished Annika had had a fling with an unhappily married man and was pregnant with his child. In Last Will, however, it is now Annika who is in a failing marriage where the pressures of work and children are pushing her and her husband Thomas apart. She attends the Nobel prize ceremony with Bosse, a journalist from a rival newspaper and is witness to a mass shooting. Annika catches a glimpse of the gunwoman’s face which immediately makes her a police witness and she is therefore barred from reporting the event. This brings her into conflict with her newspaper and she is put on indefinite leave. Feeling isolated in her new suburban family house, Annika starts investigating the shooting which leads her into the labyrinth-like politics of biotech research.
This is a complexly plotted book that nevertheless grips the reader. The mystery of the shooting is the central story and we get the narrative of both Annika and the shooter, who is a satisfyingly ruthless and compelling character. Annika, as usual, is an admirable for her tenacity and her fragile grip on her personal circumstances. She is taken advantage of by her selfish friend Anne, ignored by her husband and runs into conflict with a new neighbour. Her character is so painfully true to life and you feel for Annika as her plans for a future with her family begin to fall apart. She is clearly trying to do the right thing by moving into a new home and resisting the advances of Bosse, whom she feels attracted to.
The book is also interspersed with extracts relating to the life of Alfred Nobel. The book would have been as good a read without them, but they were interesting enough and did relate to the plot. I’ve read a couple of novels recently about the machinations of the biotech industry and this book had the feel of one that had been extensively researched. It was particularity good on the rivalries that lie behind advancement of medicine and the difficulties that women face in the industry.
The popularity of Swedish crime fiction is sometimes dismissed as riding on the coattails of Steig Larsson and Henning Mankell, but as this book shows, some of the best crime fiction being written today comes from Scandinavia. And luckily for us fans of Marklund, there is a new book, Lifetime, coming out in April. As with earlier books in the series, this will be translated by Neil Smith.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Transworld.