Last Will by Liza Marklund, and the previous tome I read by Leif G.W. Persson, provide a short answer to the question being asked by the media. Why has Swedish crime fiction become so popular? Simply because the books tell good stories with exciting plots, and have interesting characters.
This story starts with reporter Annika Bengtzon covering the Nobel banquet for the tabloid Evening Post. During the post dinner dancing a female assassin, known as The Kitten, after stepping on Annika’s foot and making eye contact shoots Israeli Nobel recipient Aaron Wiesel in the leg and then with one shot aimed at the heart kills Caroline von Behring, chair of the Karolinska Institute’s Nobel Committee, before escaping down a service elevator, and out of the building onto a speed boat. Annika is prevented from reporting on the crime because she is a key witness, which gives her boss, Anders Schyman, the opportunity to put her on extended “gardening leave”.
“Chapter twenty-three of the Judicial Procedure Act,’ Annika said, “paragraph ten, final section. The accounts of key witnesses can be protected by the head of an investigation where a serious crime is suspected.”
When an Islamic terrorist group claim responsibility the media become confused as to who was the intended victim.
Aaron Wiesel and Charles Watson were stem-cell researchers, and vocal advocates of therapeutic cloning. The decision to award them the Nobel Prize for Medicine had been controversial. It had unleashed a wave of protests from Catholic and radical Protestant groups.
As the story moves forward six months it covers a series of themes that make the plot both interesting and stimulating.
On the domestic front Annika received a large reward for finding a bag of Euros which converted came to 128 million kronor. Her ten percent [12.8 million kronor] allows the family to move to a villa in the wealthy suburb of Djursholm. Annika is devoted to her young children, Kalle and Ellen, but her relationship with her uptight husband Thomas has not recovered from the trauma of his affair with Sophia Grenborg. Annika’s struggle to maintain a career and care for her demanding family are a constant theme, and the situation is not improved by the aggressive antics of a loopy elderly neighbour, Wilhelm Hopkins.
At work Annika returns from her “leave” to find big changes at the newspaper, and one the interesting features of the whole series, and this book in particular are the details of how a media outlet is organized.
The staff glanced at each other, slightly embarrassed. Most of them didn’t work on the dusty old print edition at all, but on the online version, local television, commercial radio, or on some shiny supplement. Many of them didn’t even read the actual newspaper.
Thomas is working on government legislation that involves snooping into private communications, and anti-terror laws based on mere suspicion, and that leads to further conflict with Annika.
Following up the criminal investigation, which her old sparring partner Q leads, takes Annika into the world of animal research, scientific rivalry, the Nobel Prize winning process, and the vast amount of money that pharmaceutical companies can make with bio-medical patents.
The reader is also given some historical background into Alfred Nobel’s life and literary ambitions.
When more murders occur the story moves to a very tense and exciting climax, but one which still leaves unanswered questions in Annika’s personal life.
This is an excellent addition to what is becoming a classic crime fiction series, and one which exhibits so many of the key factors that have made Scandinavian crime fiction so popular. Detailed coverage of a subject, social commentary, large doses of cynicism, dollops of humour both light and dark, characters who distrust their superior’s motives and who feel loneliness and despair, and of course the interesting female protagonist. The reader is helped by an excellent seamless translation from Neil Smith and I am definitely looking forward to reading the next one in the series, Lifetime, due out later in the year.