I’m having a Marklund-fest at the moment, this being my second book of hers in 2 months and I have another to read before the end of March in preparation for incorporating Marklund’s protagonist, journalist Annika Bengtzon, in an upcoming theme week focusing on amateur sleuths at Jen’s Book Thoughts. I am also counting this book towards my Nordic Reading Challenge.
In something of a nod to old-fashioned whodunnits the mystery at the heart of Prime Time concerns the murder of a popular Swedish television presenter, Michelle Carlsson, while she and a dozen other people are staying at remote Yxtaholm Castle for a week of filming. Newspaper journalist Annika Bengtzon is getting ready for a holiday weekend away with her partner Thomas and their two young children when she is called to attend the castle instead. This puts a strain on her relationship with Thomas (who is pathetically distraught at the prospect of having to look after his children on his own) but Annika is not in a position to knock back the assignment. Given that one of her best friends, Anne, is one of the 12 witness/suspects who was at the castle at the time of the murder Annika has a bit of a head start on the story and her resourcefulness as a a journalist does the rest, easily keeping her in-step if not ahead of the police investigation.
Prime Time is not the most taut piece of crime fiction you’ll find. At several points along the way the crime takes a back seat to other activities including political machinations at the pointy end of the news room in which Annika works and an almost microscopic look at the world of media which, if the book is even vaguely accurate, is not one I’d work in if it was the last occupation on earth. Even the resolution to the mystery is almost a non-event, though as is discussed at this excellent review, that can be a blessing when compared to the ‘that beggars belief’ kind of ending we see a lot of. However I thoroughly enjoyed the non-crime-y threads of the novel as it really did give me a sense of a world I don’t know much about. The various players with a role in Carlsson’s life, agent, boss, friend, competitor, were all with her at the Castle and it’s not long before they’re fighting with each other at first to prove how close they were to her and, when that doesn’t work, to dish the dirt as fast as they could. It’s a grim picture that makes my workplace look like a children’s tea party in comparison.
Annika is a complex character who I don’t always like but who is invariably credible. Her personal life is at something of a cross-roads here as her relationship with Thomas (whining SOB that he is) is put to the test and she struggles to overcome her innate tendency to blame herself whenever things go wrong. In Studio 69, which is set several years prior to this novel, Annika is experiencing an abusive relationship and some of the same characteristics are carried over into her current one. Part of the time I felt like wringing her neck for being so insipid but her behaviour is entirely consistent with people who have long experience of such relationships and it’s to Marklund’s credit that she doesn’t ‘fix’ Annika in one fell swoop. And even though she is at times falling apart personally Annika does manage to get her job done despite working in a male-dominated environment where many people view her as having not much more value than pond scum. Her immediate boss is a welcome exception to the rule, though he is undergoing his own crisis involving the ethics, or lack thereof, of his paper’s Publisher.
Prime Time isn’t always the easiest read and not only because it could have done with a little editing but because it tackles some difficult subjects that don’t always have a neat resolution by the end of the novel. Overall though it’s a highly credible and insightful novel about life as a woman who wants a career and family as well as the sort of things that’ll get you killed if you work in television (I’m seriously surprised anyone survives to age fifty).
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
I reviewed Studio 69 earlier this year.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5
Author website http://www.lizamarklund.com/
Translator Ingrid Eng-Rundlow
Publisher Pocket Books [this translation 2006, original edition 2002]
Format mass market paperback
Book Series #3 or #4 (depending on how you look at things) in the Annika Bengtzon series
Source borrowed from the library