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.
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.