It seems like yesterday but it is in fact over three years since translator Neil Smith was kind enough to reply to a post about Liza Marklund with a very informative sketch of the future plans for the Annika Bengtzon series. Read it here.
If anyone asked me to recommend a real “page-turner” thriller novel I would without any hesitation suggest Borderline [Du Gamla, du fria in the original Swedish, which means Set You Free]. This is Liza Marklund back to her very best, ably assisted by Neil Smith, because Borderline reads as if originally written in English.
Annika is back with her former husband after they have spent three years in the USA, but the philandering Thomas is with an EU delegation in Kenya advising on the strengthening of frontiers, in reality trying to stop the flow of people into Europe from Africa. But while he is lining up the attractive blonde English representative, Catherine Wilson, as his next conquest the delegation are kidnapped near the Somali border.
The narrative switches back and forth between Thomas and his fellow delegates suffering barbaric treatment from their captors somewhere along the Somali-Kenya frontier; and Stockholm where an important and ironic plot line involves the brutal stabbings of Swedish women by their former partners, or possibly by a serial killer. Women in this story are treated appallingly in both the Northern European utopia, and the East African dystopia.
‘Oil tankers worth hundreds of millions of dollars float past the coast of Somalia every day, and starving people can do nothing but stand on the beach and watch them.’
The negotiations for the release of Thomas are conducted by his boss Jimmy Halenius, who assists Annika to cope with the terrible situation. How does she tell her children Ellen and Kalle their father is in grave danger? Annika also juggles her strained relationships with her mother, her sister, and best friend Anne Snapphane none of whom are particularly helpful.
At the offices of Kvallpressen editor in chief Anders Schyman realises that his news editor Patrik Nilsson is lowering the whole tone of the business with ridiculous lead stories about people losing control of an alien hand. But then seeking the lowest common denominator is what modern media is all about.
Liza Marklund imparts a lot of detailed information about the media, banking systems, hostage negotiations, and the outcomes of historic hostage situations, but it is done quite naturally within the narrative, and not in the laundry list method used by some authors. Her technique of switching back and forth between Stockholm and Somalia/Kenya increases the tension and is handled with some skill. Borderline is a very good thriller, with a good plot, great characters, especially Annika, and an almost live documentary atmosphere that makes the reader keep turning those pages until the conclusion.
‘The kidnappers have plenty of weapons. It’s striking how many hostages end up getting shot. And Somalia is a country where amputations form part of the legal system. It’s traditional that all the external parts of young girls’ genitals are cut off………’
She turned on the cold tap in the basin and let the water run over her wrists. She felt like crying, but was too angry. There had to be limits. She didn’t want to hear about mutilated little girls. She needed help, but not at any cost.
I feel any violent events discussed in the book such as the Rwandan Genocide, and the beheading of Daniel Pearl, are necessary to create the atmosphere, and mentioned in a factual way without any embellishments.