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.