Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Red Wolf, by Liza Marklund (hardcover, $25.99)(c2011)

U.S. author James Patterson gave Swedish writer Liza Marklund a leg-up in the U.S. market by co-authoring The Postcard Killers with her. Red Wolf marks her first big-time release in the U.S. Unfortunately, it is the fifth book in the Annika Bengtzon series. Annika has been through a lot by the time the action in Red Wolf happens. When we meet Annika, she has panic attacks, the world sways and rolls in times of stress, she hears angels singing to her, and her emotions are described as solid things crouching inside her, waiting to shatter, grow heavy, or burn. She is a psychological mess.

It takes a long time to get used to the combination of her fragility and iron strength without knowing what issues she has faced in the past. Eventually we learn that she was trapped in a tunnel with a bomber -- the previous book in the series, unfortunately not available in the U.S. -- and suffers from claustrophobia as a result. Her best friend, Anne Snapphane, an executive with a start-up communications company, is no better. She, too, sways and slumps with emotional baggage. Annika's husband, Thomas, is egocentric and contemplates wandering off into marital infidelity with a colleague. Annika's young children are her bright spot, and they are the recipients of her few bright thoughts and gestures.

This much angst covers the interesting plot of the book for quite some time. Buried under the tears, sobs, heartbreak, and dizziness is the story of murders in the cold area of Sweden that lies within the Arctic Circle. A newspaper reporter in one of the towns in that cold swatch of land has been murdered. Annika, herself a respected investigative reporter for a large newspaper in Stockholm, had been contacted by the reporter before he died. He had some information about the destruction of a fighter jet at a military base and the death of one of the military personnel during the 1960s. The incident had been attributed to a terrorist group, but the perpetrators were never caught. Although the reporter has died without leaving Annika any clues, she begins investigation by herself and uncovers a series of deaths that may be related to the group. Annika meticulously and inventively discovers information that eventually winds up linking several aspects of her life together.

When the story finally got going, it was a page-turner. The resolution was exciting but kept at a fairly human level -- as opposed to a car chase/bomb-throwing/cliff-jumping cinematic denouement, although there was a little of that thrown in.

Annika doesn't appear to be much of a prize herself, but why did she want the inconstant Thomas? The story, I'm sure, is buried in one of the books in the series that we may not see for a long time. Wade through the soap opera to get to an intriguing story of an incipient 1960s Maoist revolution in Sweden and the very human faces behind that revolution many years later.

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