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by Liza Marklund (translated by Neil Smith, Corgi, R125)
Although investigative journalist Annika Bengtzon is not in the same league, psychosis wise, as her fellow Swede, Lisbeth “girl with the dragon tattoo” Salander, the character has the fascination, lateral flair and, indeed, the flaws most of us can identify with, to keep readers worldwide glued.
And they are: Liza Marklund’s books have been translated into 39 languages.
Such is the draw of Marklund’s beautifully observed characters and extraordinary plots (always researched to the nth degree), it surely can’t be long before the English-speaking world gets a dose of the character on celluloid. Okay, a few, low-key movies have been made in Europe of some of the Annika Bengtzon books, but Hollywood must be waiting in the wings.
Having attended a lavish Nobel Prize winners’ banquet, where one of the winners has been shot dead in front of her, Bengtzon must investigate a story fraught with problems and dangerous twists and turns. At the same time she’s trying to cope with the demands of being a mother and wife, in a highly strained relationship, plus the increasing problem of an arrogant, obnoxious neighbour.
One keeps hoping that the latter, who drives his car across Annika’s new flower beds, ends up on the wrong side of the assassin…
The world of journalism is ever changing (for the worse, Marklund and many others, would say, for many print journalists) and, seemingly, in Sweden, the cops can slap a “disclosure ban” on a journo if a story would harm a criminal investigation.
Hence, Annika’s scoop seems to be a non-starter… And this is some story – a ruthless US assassin, with no compunction about her methods of murder; ructions within the highly competitive scientific community over a medical discovery which would change the world; a suspected “Islamic terrorist” caught by Swedish police then tortured by the CIA, on Swedish soil – all this interspersed with snippets of bizarre information about the extraordinary man, Alfred Nobel, who created that prize.
Marklund grips and questions the reader from the beginning. Her plotlines – lateral and intellectual – are always interwoven with important issues, from every good parent’s problem – trying to balance the strain of work and home life – to, in this tale, medical ethics and the pros and cons of the seemingly increasing use of so-called “black-ops interrogation” of suspected terrorists.
A real page turner and beautifully written.
As for the cliffhanger finale, clever Marklund, she includes the first paragraph of Lifetime, the follow-on, at the end of “Last Will”. I have to get it – now! – Sally Scott
* Swedish author Marklund was appointed ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund, Unicef, as a result of her long interest in issues related to human rights. She travels regularly on behalf of Unicef and has, among other things, covered questions related to child slavery and children with HIV and Aids in the Third World.