ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE: LEIF G.W. PERSSON trans PAUL NORLEN

Posted: May 5, 2012 in Book Awards, Historical, Scandinavia, spy story, Sweden

Leif G.W. Persson’s Another Time, Another Life: The Story of a Crime has a blurb on the back cover from Dagens Arbete telling the reader that it is ‘one of the best detective novels ever written in Sweden’, and this amateur reviewer agrees with that opinion. I really enjoyed this superb crime novel and recaptured my reading ‘mojo’ polishing it off  in four days.

Another Time, Another Life  won Best Swedish Crime Fiction Novel  in 2003, a year in which the other short listed nominees included Karin Alvtegen, Asa Larsson and Kjell Eriksson. Enough said.

The story is divided into three parts, firstly an introductory section about the violent occupation of the West German Embassy in Stockholm in 1975 by German terrorists demanding the release of members of the Baader Meinhof Group held at home. Then a police procedural investigation about the murder of an unpleasnat Swedish civil servant in 1989, with a discussion of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the release of files held by the Stasi.

Finally in 1999/2000 a reopening by the security services of the investigation into Swedes involved in the Embassy outrage before the 25 year statute of limitations expired, which leads to the Eriksson murder case also being reinvestigated. 

My summary, although factually accurate, does not do justice to the cleverness of the plot, which although appearing convoluted is in fact simple to follow. This is a book more about compelling characters and human relationships than plot. The reader gets a mixture of facts, satire, police procedural, mystery and humour, and the 404 pages just whiz past. 

West German Embassy, 1975

After that they very carefully started to ease back down the stairs with the stretcher dragging after them while Jarnebring held the sight of his revolver aimed steady at the door to the upper corridor. It was approximately that moment that he acquired his lifelong memory of the German terrorists’ occupation of the West German embassy in Stockholm. There was a smell of burnt telephone.

The Eriksson murder investigation, 1989

This part of the story is a brilliant black comedy as Bo Jarnebring and his new temporary partner, Anna Holt investigate the murder of Kjell Eriksson, a very unpleasant civil servant, who lives in a luxurious apartment and in a style way above his salary level. The investigation is complicated by the fact that the detectives are lead by the odious, crude, corrupt Evert Backstrom, and his colleague the only slightly less odious Wiijnbladh, although both are equally incompetent.

“Backstrom,” said Jarnebring with a sneer. “Backstrom,” said Johansson. “Do you mean Backstrom at homicide?”

“One and the same,” said Jarnebring. “Backstrom is the leader of the investigation.”

“Sweet Jesus,” said Johansson with feeling. 

The homophobic Backstrom has his own theory.

” My gut feeling tells me we have an ordinary homo murder here,” said Backstrom. 

It’s nice that you’re starting to sound like yourself again, thought Jarnebring.

Despite evidence that Eriksson is neither interested in men or women, and his only desires are money and power over people, Backstrom both ignores and obstructs the solid police work of Holt and Jarnebring, and the case remains unsolved. 

1999/2000

With the statute of limitations about to expire Lar Martin Johansson, Bo Jarnebring’s best friend and another “real policeman”, is appointed head of operations of the Swedish secret police, Sepo. They have received a tip off about four Swedes, who assisted the terrorists back in 1975. One of these is Kjell Eriksson and as a result the murder investigation is re-opened. 

But this time Johansson is assisted by three brilliant hard working women police detectives, Anna Holt, who was on the original investigation, Linda Martinez and Lisa Mattei.

“If we were real detectives we would go down to the bar and knock back eight beers, do a little arm wrestling, and bring home a real hunk,” said Martinez. “Either of you ladies in the mood for that?” 

Holt and Mattei shook their heads.

Their meticulous investigation is bound to solve the murder. But the involvement of other intelligence services and Sweden’s complex political intrigues mean that the conclusion will not be straightforward, and in some aspects not even just.  

Another Time, Another Life is full of dark humour and is thankfully far less convoluted than the first book in the trilogy Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End.  Leif G.W. Persson first won the award for Best Swedish crime novel in 1982, with The Pillars of Society, Another Time, Another Life won in 2003 and his most recent book The Dying Detective won in 2010, and this book also won the Nordic Glass Key in 2011.

His series of books featuring the morally corrupt and thoroughly repulsive detective Evert Backstrom have been optioned for a television series by 20th Century Fox in the USA. Some readers might find the few short passages of Backstrom’s homophobic ranting objectionable rather than funny, but they say a lot about the character, and perhaps the views of certain sections of most police forces. 

I first started reading this book with some trepidation, after struggling with his previous tome, but before long it reminded me of my discovery of the Martin Beck series, and it is almost up to that standard.  Leif G.W.Persson has created some memorable characters, and Another Life, Another Time successfully blends both a police procedural, and political intrigue together with a dose of very dark humour and satire. This novel has definitely removed any trace of Swede fatigue from my future reading  plans. 

When his boss was assassinated the undersecretary left Rosenblad….. In any event he could not have been sent out into the real cold, because he had come back again quickly  and nowadays he was on his third prime minister and things had gone better and better for him. Prime minister number two had retired with a pension and in the best of health, and number three, the undersecretary’s current boss, positively glowed with vitality.  

Comments
  1. Norman – This is an excellent review! I’m so glad you enjoyed the novel as much as you did, and it’s just gone on my must-read TBR. What an interesting combination of past and present, too, and with all sorts of fascinating plot twists and complications. Yup, my kinda book.

  2. It took me a while to get into this book. Some of the translation seemed a bit literal and kept pulling me up. Having got into the swing of it, I found it more compelling.

  3. Maxine says:

    This one is definitely going on my list in the light of your review! Sounds a lot better than the first (which was also convoluted but simple – confused, though, by too many identical nasty policemen). Glad you have got your reading mojo back & look forward to more reviews.

  4. Norman Price says:

    Margot, I hope you enjoy it because as Mary said it takes a little getting used to his style and the character of the monstrous Backstrom. Translator Neil Smith tweeted that he has translated a Leif GW Persson/ Backstrom book due out in October.

    Mary I agree but this was so much better than BSLAWE that I spent most of the time reading out sections to my wife. Not the Backstrom bits.

    Maxine, there are nasty policemen in this one, but there are also clever nice policemen Lars Martin Johansson and Bo Jarnebring, as well as the brilliant policewomen Anna Holt, Mattei and Martinez. The worst of the cops from BSlAWE Waltin only gets a brief mention you will be glad to know, and the confusion level is much less. ;-)
    Leif GW Persson semed to be cultivating an image as a crusty old misogynist in that first book, but this one has some subtlety and irony.

    “What do you say about having dinner in Paris, this evening?” said Tischler, keeping hold of Holt’s hand in his when she was about to leave.
    “Unfortunately,” said Holt smiling, “I’m afraid that won’t work. In another time and another life maybe,” she said.
    “I live in hope,” said Tischler, looking at her with his very attentive eyes.

  5. Sounds really good Norm, thanks. I have a copy and can lay my hands on it quickly. Will be checking this one out sooner rather than later.

  6. [...] reviews of Another Time, Another Life are at: Euro Crime (Laura Root), Crime Scraps and International Noir Fiction. Share this: This entry was posted in Book review by Maxine. [...]

  7. [...] Time, Another Life has been reviewed by Maxine at Petrona, Norman at Crime Scraps, Laura Root at Euro Crime, Glenn at International Noir Fiction, Peter at Nordic Bookblog, at Shade [...]

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