I am normally a fan of reading series in order wherever possible but I have given up trying to work out the correct order for this series. The books do not follow each other chronologically and also seem to have been translated out of the order they were written. This one has also been published under several titles including Studio Sex and more recently Exposed, but whatever it’s called I’m counting it towards my Nordic book challenge.
When young journalist Annika Bengtzon answers her newspaper’s tip line and hears that a woman’s body has been found behind a gravestone at a nearby cemetery she fights for the opportunity to be able to report the story which will, hopefully, lead to a permanent job with the paper. Over what sounds more like the average Australian summer than a Swedish one in terms of temperature, Annika follows leads, becomes personally involved in some aspects of the case and uncovers a link to high-level political corruption in an effort to solve the murder of Josefin.
I doubt I’d have read this book based on its blurb which says Annika is a combination of Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla and Thomas Harris’ Clarice Starling. What the…? Fortunately I didn’t read any of that nonsense until I’d finished this remarkably good book. The plot manages to be complex but not hard to follow as we are introduced to various potential suspects including a sleazy boyfriend, a client at the seedy club where she worked and a Minister of the government. What I liked most was that even though Annika’s actions were driving most of the plot advancements there wasn’t a single point at which I thought “someone who isn’t with the police wouldn’t be able to do that or have access to that information” which can be a real problem with the ‘amateur’ sleuth in crime fiction. When we moved into the political arena I was absolutely enthralled with the tidbits I gleaned about the recent history of Swedish politics.
Annika is a fascinating character. Her inexperience hampers her at times but she does good work too as is evidenced in the way she gains people’s confidence and trust during interviews and it is obvious that she really cares about the plight of Josefin, and perhaps even identifies with her a little too much. She faces various struggles in her workplace being both young and female so automatically not to be taken seriously by many. Actually the workplace issues were really credibly depicted with both the good and bad aspects of any office on display. There were petty squabbles and nasty back-stabbing but also genuine friendships and mentoring of our young protagonist to even things out. Annika’s personal life is not smooth-sailing either as she has a fairly poor relationship with her mother and a controlling boyfriend. However her grandmother loves her to bits and the feeling is mutual so all is not gloom and doom on that score.
Marklund has created a terrifically believable story here full of well drawn characters, many of whom are not as sympathetic as I found Annika to be but are still highly credible. The picture of Sweden on show is remarkably normal, and not any more dour or grim than any other part of the world which flies in the fact of accepted wisdom about Scandinavian crime fiction. Clearly Marklund had issues she wanted to explore such as the shenanigans of the Social Democrats, domestic violence and even the relatively recent phenomenon of the mass hysteria that wallowing in these kinds of events can sometimes generate, but all of this is done as part of the story not with lecturing or preaching for which I am profoundly grateful. I found the book so compelling I already have moved another in the series to my ‘read soon’ pile.
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My rating 4.5/5
Translator Kajsa von Hofsten
Publisher Pocket Books [This translation 2002, original edition 1999]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 431 pages
Format mass market paperback
Book Series Number 1 or 4 in the Annika Bengtzon series
Source I bought it second hand