In her sixth adventure to be translated into English journalist-cum-sleuth Annika Bengtzon is, on behalf of her newspaper the Evening Standard, attending a lavish banquet for the year’s Nobel Prize winners. She is dancing with a reporter from a rival publication when shots are fired and a woman dies in front of her. Although moved by what she has witnessed Annika’s thoughts turn to making a report for the paper but before she can contact her newsroom she is whisked away for questioning and immediately placed under a Disclosure Ban which prevents her from revealing anything she has seen.
Annika’s bosses at the paper treat her as if the ban is somehow her fault and use it as an excuse to send her on extended leave, ostensibly so other staff can report on the events without having to worry that they will inadvertently break the ban. But Annika’s interest in finding out the reason for the shootings doesn’t diminish, and she is able to keep up with the official investigation due to her long-standing connection to the Hawaiian shirt-wearing senior policeman known only as ‘Q’ who feeds her snippets of information she cannot report. She finds other leads too in the scientific community which surrounds the Nobel selection process which indicate the shootings have something to do with the Prize and its history. This is at odds with official version of events which blame an Islamic terrorist group for the shootings, though Annika learns from her newspaper colleague that this is surrounded by very disturbing practices on behalf of the government.
As I have come to expect from Marklund, LAST WILL is an above average combination of criminal investigation, exploration of intriguing political themes and salient observation on modern domestic life and its hard to know what to highlight first. Though I think because it is done so deftly I ought to discuss the way Marklund weaves small-p politics into her writing without making me feel like I’m attending a lecture. Here she tackles some genuinely weighty issues including the influence of America on its allies in a post-September 11 world, the seeming ease with which alarming legislation designed to restrict individual freedoms can be shoved through a supposedly democratic Parliament and the astonishing competitiveness of scientific endeavours in general and the medical field in particular. Apart from being engaging from a storytelling perspective (who knew medical research was quite that cut-throat?) what impressed me most was that although it’s not difficult to sense where Marklund’s own beliefs on these issues lie she does manage to present a reasonably rounded argument in most instances. I was struck more than once by how different this was to a book which I stopped reading earlier this year because it failed to even try to depict more than one side to any argument and was demanding readers to think a certain way. I much prefer my crime fiction like this because it makes me think and and draw my own conclusions about the world around me.
Another strong element of LAST WILL is its characters especially the frustrating but entirely believable Annika. She’s a fully-rounded person with an equal amount of admirable traits and foibles and she seems to lurch through life from crisis to crisis in a way that it is much more fun to read about than be part of I’m sure. Here she has become more financially secure but her relationship with her husband is strained to say the least. This is mostly because Thomas is an insufferable, philandering bore though it’s not quite that simple of course. Annika’s self confidence is low enough that she allows herself to be poorly treated by him and her supposed best friend who is just the worst kind of leech. But while I occasionally want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her I can’t help but admire the way she works her way through things. And sometimes she does fight back though the most memorable cases were against an elderly neighbour and two very nasty children. I can’t say that I like Annika but I like reading about her and find her a hundred percent credible. We humans don’t always make smart choices, even when someone else is writing our lines.
Although not a major element of this book Marklund has continued to depict the ever-changing world of journalism which, given her own background as a journalist, is both authentic and extremely sad. The book provides real insight into the chaotic race to the bottom that mainstream media seem to have become engaged in over the past few years and, as I do with each new book in this series, I wonder how low things will go.
My only very minor criticism of this book is its depiction of the perpetrator of the shootings who we meet sporadically throughout the book (we know who has committed the crime but not who has hired them). The super-human assassin with no ties and homes in all the best exotic locations are a little bit clichéd for my taste but this really is a minor gripe about an otherwise excellent book. Aided ably by a very readable translation from Neil Smith,Marklund has delivered a ripping yarn with loads of food for thought, a dash of humour and some delicate imagery. Highly recommended.
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LAST WILL has been reviewed at Petrona
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My rating 4.5/5
Translator Neil Smith
Publisher Emily Bestler Books [2012, original edition 2006]
Length 404 pages
Book Series #6 in the Annika Bengtzon series
Source Borrowed from the library