Swedish writer Joakim Zander is a truly polished thriller writer whose two former novels "The Swimmer" and "The Brother" move effortlessly between Europe and the Middle East, creating a sense of intrigue and contemporary espionage that is to be deeply lauded.
His latest spectacular novel "The Friend," the third in the Klara Walldeen series, again shows his skills at both building and sustaining a gripping story. And at the end of the fast-paced read, one is left wanting for more.
The reader is immediately immersed from the outset as the still wet-behind-the- ears Jacob Seger arrives in Beirut. There he lands his first job after completing a degree in political science, as an intern at the Swedish Embassy.
Beirut is certainly not for the faint-hearted and Zander is adept at building up the atmosphere of this war-torn city that is at the same time a place of dark mystery, narrow alleyways, bullet-ridden buildings; those that remain half begun and never completed; caught in the cross fire of a never-ending cycle of violence and strife.
One can almost smell the damp emanating from the concrete, and alternately get a whiff of the heady aromas of the za'atar spice, the olive oil and the smell of freshly grilled kebabs in the myriad restaurants plying age old dishes to Beirutis across this complex town, once known as the pearl of the Mediterranean.
Jacob is himself a complex character and we get a sense of what our protagonist is all about as he's described as a somewhat hesitant but determined young man who likes to think of himself as resourceful and quick- witted..
Just a few days after his arrival he meets the handsome Yassim at a rooftop party and after a night of passion in the scented garden of an abandoned palace he falls irreversibly for the dark and mysterious man.
Meanwhile, the story flits between Beirut and Stockholm ...Jacob was struck by a newspaper article he read about one Gabriella Seichelmann - a Swedish attorney who blows the whistle on the Scandinavian Security Service. Sapo has allowed organised riots to occur Sweden (this along with a string of other European cities) in order to destabilise police forces and increase opportunities for private police companies.
Seichelmann happens to be a close friend of Walldeen who is a former lawyer and so the door is opened for the concurrent plot.
Yassim constantly disappears and Seger becomes alternately confused and suspicious of who he is - is he a terrorist as he keeps returning to Syria - or is he a photographer as he relates to his besotted boyfriend?
Not too long after seeing him a few times however, he gets caught up in far more than he bargained for. He's accused of terrorism and given an ultimatum to get a memory chip out of Yassim's laptop. Yassim is seen as both soulful and as intricate as the web within which he's involved - at once loving and not present; at once caring and callous. Who is he?
Then Gabriella gets arrested and Klara and her friend George also get involved as the two sides of this story get linked. The Russians are that link in the chain. Or are they?
Jacob is under increasing danger from a host of conspirators and flees Beirut, while in Stockholm, then Brussels, Klara and George come under heavy surveillance. Eventually in an absolutely heady and spectacular race for time Jacob arrives in Brussels and the three are in a spectacular chase to escape their extremely ruthless and dangerous pursuers. Yassim is also there.
Zander has created an absolute winner in his latest - love, intrigue, a sense of right and wrong in a world where morals have developed different boundaries. His style is fabulously edgy and contemporary and he's a real master in character building and in setting the scene for the different locales. A must read, and an intelligent one at that and, if you're a lover of Homeland-style thrillers, well that's a bonus.