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.
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.