Saturday, 16 October 2010


Red Wolf is the fifth in the series following intrepid reporter Annika Bengtzon, immediately following The Bomber, which was fourth in the series but, confusingly enough, the first published in English translation. Bengtzon is back to work but still recovering from her tunnel ordeal at the hands of the eponymous terrorist. Travelling to the far north of Sweden to write about a terrorist incident at a Swedish air base forty years earlier, she is drawn into a series of murders which begin with a local reporter who was working on the same thing. Soon Bengtzon finds herself in the middle of an old Swedish revolutionary cell, whose leader, like Carlos, became an international assassin for hire and now has returned to his homeland to die. And perhaps kill.

It's a complicated plot, replete with terrorist issues that resonate in today's climate, and with a serious reflection on the fate of the extreme left within Sweden's evolving social democratic system. But, as ever, the real drive of the novel comes from Bengtzon herself, and her life. She's still a bull in a china shop, both at her newspaper and with her husband, and her experiences have taken some of her always shaky confidence away. What is most impressive is the way Marklund shows us Annika best through other characters: the reactions of her husband, considering an affair, as he contemplates her qualities; the inablity of her friend Anne to cope with personal problems of her own. In the end what makes Bengtzon so interesting is that she often is less than sympathetic, but she is always driven by her own innate sense of justice and fairness, which puts us on her side, especially when faced with government apparatchicks and newspaper editors. And in fact, that's the other real strength of this series, the way Bengtzon's commitment to old fashioned journalism is constantly at odds with those in power who prefer not to be investigated. And in Red Wolf, she finds her investigations being simultaneously blocked by her editor and used for commercial opportunity by her publisher.

It's easy to see why Marklund would be one of James Patterson's choices to collaborate with. She's one of the more approachable of the Scandinavian writers; her prose is utilitarian at best, and that comes through in this translation, but she's able to mix adroitly the personal with large scale plots, and of course, as a woman she brings a new dimension to the Patterson machine. The best thing one might say about Red Wolf is that it makes the reader willing to test the Patterson waters with their collaboration, The Postcard Killers.

Red Wolf by Liza Marklund
Corgi, £6.99, ISBN 9780552162319

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