Review: Prime Time by Liza Marklund

I’m having a Marklund-fest at the moment, this being my second book of hers in 2 months and I have another to read before the end of March in preparation for incorporating Marklund’s protagonist, journalist Annika Bengtzon, in an upcoming theme week focusing on amateur sleuths at Jen’s Book Thoughts. I am also counting this book towards my Nordic Reading Challenge.

In something of a nod to old-fashioned whodunnits the mystery at the heart of Prime Time concerns the murder of a popular Swedish television presenter, Michelle Carlsson, while she and a dozen other people are staying at remote Yxtaholm Castle for a week of filming. Newspaper journalist Annika Bengtzon is getting ready for a holiday weekend away with her partner Thomas and their two young children when she is called to attend the castle instead. This puts a strain on her relationship with Thomas (who is pathetically distraught at the prospect of having to look after his children on his own) but Annika is not in a position to knock back the assignment. Given that one of her best friends, Anne, is one of the 12 witness/suspects who was at the castle at the time of the murder Annika has a bit of a head start on the story and her resourcefulness as a a journalist does the rest, easily keeping her in-step if not ahead of the police investigation.

Prime Time is not the most taut piece of crime fiction you’ll find. At several points along the way the crime takes a back seat to other activities including political machinations at the pointy end of the news room in which Annika works and an almost microscopic look at the world of media which, if the book is even vaguely accurate, is not one I’d work in if it was the last occupation on earth. Even the resolution to the mystery is almost a non-event, though as is discussed at this excellent review, that can be a blessing when compared to the ‘that beggars belief’ kind of ending we see a lot of. However I thoroughly enjoyed the non-crime-y threads of the novel as it really did give me a sense of a world I don’t know much about. The various players with a role in Carlsson’s life, agent, boss, friend, competitor, were all with her at the Castle and it’s not long before they’re fighting with each other at first to prove how close they were to her and, when that doesn’t work, to dish the dirt as fast as they could. It’s a grim picture that makes my workplace look like a children’s tea party in comparison.

Annika is a complex character who I don’t always like but who is invariably credible. Her personal life is at something of a cross-roads here as her relationship with Thomas (whining SOB that he is) is put to the test and she struggles to overcome her innate tendency to blame herself whenever things go wrong. In Studio 69, which is set several years prior to this novel, Annika is experiencing an abusive relationship and some of the same characteristics are carried over into her current one. Part of the time I felt like wringing her neck for being so insipid but her behaviour is entirely consistent with people who have long experience of such relationships and it’s to Marklund’s credit that she doesn’t ‘fix’ Annika in one fell swoop. And even though she is at times falling apart personally Annika does manage to get her job done despite working in a male-dominated environment where many people view her as having not much more value than pond scum. Her immediate boss is a welcome exception to the rule, though he is undergoing his own crisis involving the ethics, or lack thereof, of his paper’s Publisher.

Prime Time isn’t always the easiest read and not only because it could have done with a little editing but because it tackles some difficult subjects that don’t always have a neat resolution by the end of the novel. Overall though it’s a highly credible and insightful novel about life as a woman who wants a career and family as well as the sort of things that’ll get you killed if you work in television (I’m seriously surprised anyone survives to age fifty).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Prime Time has been reviewed at Euro Crime and Reading Matters

I reviewed Studio 69 earlier this year.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5
Author website
Ingrid Eng-Rundlow
Publisher Pocket Books [this translation 2006, original edition 2002]
ISBN 0743469089
Length 422
Format mass market paperback
Book Series #3 or #4 (depending on how you look at things) in the Annika Bengtzon series
Source borrowed from the library

This entry was posted in Liza Marklund, Nordic Challenge 2011, Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Review: Prime Time by Liza Marklund

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this excellent review. I think you’ve captured very neatly the complexity of Annika Bengtzon’s character. As you say, she’s not always fun to be around and not always likeable. But she gets the job done and she manages to do some learning and growing. And I agree; readers get a good inside like at the world of media and it’s most definitely not a pleasant place. I’m glad you liked this one.


  2. Maxine says:

    Nice review – I think that this is the weakest of the Annika books. Paradise, the next one, is (I think!) my favourite so I hope you’ll persevere to that one. Among other factors, I do so much like the depiction of life in the media (both for the individuals concerned and as the business itself changes so radically owing to the internet), and the very real work-life balance dilemmas faced by Annika, which are so rarely given much space in novels.


  3. Bernadette, I’m just getting started on Studio Sex and in my review will be sure to address the journalism issue — I teach in a journalism school! 😀


  4. @Maxine I certainly didn’t think this one was as good as Studio 69 but still above average. Looking at my old reading notebook it seems I have read The Bomber but I have no recollection of it and won’t be re-reading it or reading Paradise for a while – all of the backlist are out of print and as Abe Books was selling them for ridiculous prices ($90 for one of them) I’m a bit stumped as neither of the libraries to which I have access has those two titles. I have gotten the impression that the books are possibly going to be re-issued for the US market following on from her success with the JP co-author and Red Wolf so I might be able to grab them then.

    @Karen I will be curious to see what you make of Swedish journalism as depicted by Marklund (who is herself a journalist I think, or was at any rate).


  5. Maxine says:

    The books (the first 4, anyway) were published in the UK a few years ago, in paperback, but went out of print- and have now been picked up by a new publisher, who will publish the backlist as well as the 3 or 4 new ones that have not been translated previously (Red Wolf being the first of these). The author is/was a journalist, publisher and a UN ambassador.


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