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Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is always vastly entertaining to read of the problems of others., 19 July 2013
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This review is from: Lifetime (Paperback)
My first Annika Bengtzon novel, this book was written in 2007 but only published in English, in an extremely good translation by Neil Smith, in 2013.

"Lifetime" begins with the murder of `Sweden's most famous policeman' and the abduction of his young son, and continues with Bengtzon's house burning down and her escaping with her two children just after her husband has told her he is leaving her for another (richer and younger) woman.

Admittedly, after this beginning it does settle down to a pulsating and complex story in which police procedural, social, personal and political/economic elements are all strongly intertwined. The fact that Bengtzon is both intensely vulnerable and unbelievably determined, and that she is surrounded by a group of characters who interact so strongly and who are so strongly delineated, made this book a most enjoyable read.

There is no little surprise that, after his murder, the policeman, David Lindholm, is found to have a decidedly shady side to his character or that his wife, Julia, who is found blood-spattered and alone with the body, is the prime suspect. Julia has two very good friends, Bengtzon and the police officer who discovers the crime, Nina Hoffman, but even these find it hard to believe her innocence in the face of the evidence.

In this novel Bengtzon who is worried beyond belief about her children and where to live, threatened by her ex-husband with only limited access to her children, treated with the usual discourtesy by her insurance company and still has to file her newspaper articles. The author has created a person under intense pressure who is snappy, grumpy, jealous and fearful, but oh-so-very-Nordically efficient. I noted one reviewer commented on the high proportion of women characters - about time too, and not one was just cut-and-pasted in.

The interweaving stories centre on past criminality, marital cheating, the complexity of newspaper cost-cutting exercises, the election of a union representative, hidden governmental proposals to change judicial guidelines for life sentences and the usual interpersonal animosities and distrusts that are to be found in any large organization like the police or the media. Dull as some of these may sound, the author and translator make them all riveting. At the very end of the book there is a link back to the previous book and also a glaring loose end tied up on the very last page that, no doubt, offers a link to the next novel in the series.

I did not fully understand the role of the senior police officer, called "Q", but expect that this will have been explained in an earlier book. The author is excellent at explaining the sheer mind-numbing boredom of chasing historical facts and personal and financial interrelationships that combine to identify a suspect, and one wonders how any of this was possible prior to the internet. Two small reservations: firstly, that Bengtzon moved very quickly from having a list of 12 possible murderers/ abductors to having a complete case against the guilty party that seemed to involve more feminine intuition than substantive fact, and, secondly, that she was very naÔve to assume that posting the photographs of the 12 suspects to Julia in prison would not come to the attention of the authorities.

This is one of those novels whose strength lies in the totality of the individual stories adding up to very much more than the sum of their parts. The author is, amongst other things, "a publisher, journalist and columnist" and she uses these experiences to establish a rock-solid base for this novel. For all I know she might also be murderer, victim of arson and an abductor.

I believe that I read somewhere that Henning Mankell referred to Marklund as "The Queen of Scandinavian Crime Fiction". This is a very contested field but, on the basis of this one book, he may well be right. However, I am not sure that I would be able to go back to read and fully enjoy Marklund's books a second time as I most certainly do with Mankell and Wallander.

Whilst the plot of this detective story is self-contained, there are clearly links between this 7th novel in the series and the 6th and 8th, "Nobel's Last Will" and "A Place in the Sun", respectively. In fact, Marklund has said that these three should be seen as a trilogy with characters recurring and themes and plots linked to one another. Is this perhaps Marklund's response to Steig Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy"? Anyway, it would be sensible to read these three in order. To add an extra complication, after her initial Bengtzon novel, "Bomber", Marklund moved back and forth in time until she reached the 5th, "The Red Wolf". On the basis of this book, I am going to start reading the series.

Readers already familiar with Maklund/Bengtzon will have no need to be encouraged to read this book, but for people interested in detective/thriller/ suspense at its very best this is an essential title for their booklist.
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Reviewer

Dr R
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

Location: Norwich, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 190