In her sixth adventure to be translated into English journalist-cum-sleuth Annika Bengtzon is, on behalf of her newspaper the Evening Standard, attending a lavish banquet for the year’s Nobel Prize winners. She is dancing with a reporter from a rival publication when shots are fired and a woman dies in front of her. Although moved by what she has witnessed Annika’s thoughts turn to making a report for the paper but before she can contact her newsroom she is whisked away for questioning and immediately placed under a Disclosure Ban which prevents her from revealing anything she has seen.
Annika’s bosses at the paper treat her as if the ban is somehow her fault and use it as an excuse to send her on extended leave, ostensibly so other staff can report on the events without having to worry that they will inadvertently break the ban. But Annika’s interest in finding out the reason for the shootings doesn’t diminish, and she is able to keep up with the official investigation due to her long-standing connection to the Hawaiian shirt-wearing senior policeman known only as ‘Q’ who feeds her snippets of information she cannot report. She finds other leads too in the scientific community which surrounds the Nobel selection process which indicate the shootings have something to do with the Prize and its history. This is at odds with official version of events which blame an Islamic terrorist group for the shootings, though Annika learns from her newspaper colleague that this is surrounded by very disturbing practices on behalf of the government.
As I have come to expect from Marklund, LAST WILL is an above average combination of criminal investigation, exploration of intriguing political themes and salient observation on modern domestic life and its hard to know what to highlight first. Though I think because it is done so deftly I ought to discuss the way Marklund weaves small-p politics into her writing without making me feel like I’m attending a lecture. Here she tackles some genuinely weighty issues including the influence of America on its allies in a post-September 11 world, the seeming ease with which alarming legislation designed to restrict individual freedoms can be shoved through a supposedly democratic Parliament and the astonishing competitiveness of scientific endeavours in general and the medical field in particular. Apart from being engaging from a storytelling perspective (who knew medical research was quite that cut-throat?) what impressed me most was that although it’s not difficult to sense where Marklund’s own beliefs on these issues lie she does manage to present a reasonably rounded argument in most instances. I was struck more than once by how different this was to a book which I stopped reading earlier this year because it failed to even try to depict more than one side to any argument and was demanding readers to think a certain way. I much prefer my crime fiction like this because it makes me think and and draw my own conclusions about the world around me.
Another strong element of LAST WILL is its characters especially the frustrating but entirely believable Annika. She’s a fully-rounded person with an equal amount of admirable traits and foibles and she seems to lurch through life from crisis to crisis in a way that it is much more fun to read about than be part of I’m sure. Here she has become more financially secure but her relationship with her husband is strained to say the least. This is mostly because Thomas is an insufferable, philandering bore though it’s not quite that simple of course. Annika’s self confidence is low enough that she allows herself to be poorly treated by him and her supposed best friend who is just the worst kind of leech. But while I occasionally want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her I can’t help but admire the way she works her way through things. And sometimes she does fight back though the most memorable cases were against an elderly neighbour and two very nasty children. I can’t say that I like Annika but I like reading about her and find her a hundred percent credible. We humans don’t always make smart choices, even when someone else is writing our lines.
Although not a major element of this book Marklund has continued to depict the ever-changing world of journalism which, given her own background as a journalist, is both authentic and extremely sad. The book provides real insight into the chaotic race to the bottom that mainstream media seem to have become engaged in over the past few years and, as I do with each new book in this series, I wonder how low things will go.
My only very minor criticism of this book is its depiction of the perpetrator of the shootings who we meet sporadically throughout the book (we know who has committed the crime but not who has hired them). The super-human assassin with no ties and homes in all the best exotic locations are a little bit clichéd for my taste but this really is a minor gripe about an otherwise excellent book. Aided ably by a very readable translation from Neil Smith,Marklund has delivered a ripping yarn with loads of food for thought, a dash of humour and some delicate imagery. Highly recommended.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
LAST WILL has been reviewed at Petrona
I have reviewed three of Marklund’s earlier books, Studio 69, Prime Time and Red Wolf
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4.5/5
Translator Neil Smith
Publisher Emily Bestler Books [2012, original edition 2006]
Length 404 pages
Book Series #6 in the Annika Bengtzon series
Source Borrowed from the library
Bernadette – I’m so glad you liked this novel :-)!
Yes, me too, lovely review. And yes, the world of biomedical research is cuthroat, some of the anecdotes told here have a ring of truth to them. I like the way that Marklund expects her reader to be intelligent, in for example her descriptions of immunology research, and in her refusal to be simplistic about the issue of animal experiments (though as you say, showing some pros and cons). I agree the “villain” sections were odd, I was wondering if she was meaning them as a sarcastic/ironic take on the usual cliched villian? I also like the subtle way the journalism industry themes were presented (bearing in mind this book was first published a few years ago, I think, from memory – admittedly not very good!)
I’ve heard a lot about this author and I’m keen to try her sometime.4.5 out of 5 is a good rating for you Bernadette. I must look out for her books.
Excellent, thorough, incisive review. I liked this book, stayed up until the wee hours until I finished it. Was captivated by the plot.
And I beg to differ on one thing: I like Annika Bengtzon. She is a real character, and she is multi-layered like many people. She is far from being a perfect person in any part of her life, although she tries very hard. She has strong and good traits, foibles and insecurities. She doesn’t always say the “right” thing, i.e., when she’s dealing with the two children. But I get it and would imagine many parents are driven to react like this when their children are endangered. Her neighbor is impossible and I think many real humans would have reacted even more strongly than she does to his rudeness and invasion of her space.
I wasn’t surprised at the cutthroat nature of medical research, much of which is now “all about the money,” given the role of corporations in all this.
I had to struggle with her staying with her husband, whose despicable behavior sinks lower with each book, but I realize that many women put up with this stuff, especially where children are involved. I hope that this changes and that she leaves this jerk in the future.
I do agree about the perpetrator. I didn’t particularly like the sections with her, and then the abrupt conclusion. I thought that needed a bit more explanation, but this seems to be a common style lately with abrupt reveals and endings. I needed a bit more there.
I loaned this book to a mystery reading friend. She was hooked, got Red Wolf out of the library immediately and read it quickly, looking for more about Annika. We both await the library’s stocking of the new editions that are being published of the prior books. It’ll be a strange way to read this series but it’ll still be riveting.
FWIIW, I love Annika too, but I like difficult people (or at least, difficult in the way she is), and I can well understand her toughness/vulnerability in the parallel parts of her life – mother and journalist.
I don’t dislike her…but I don’t love her…she does frustrate me a bit and I think she’d be a hard friend to have. I have a friend who has been going through a similar thing with her husband for years now and I keep looking at her thinking “you’re a smart woman, why can’t you just heave yourself out of this mess so we can all breathe a sigh of relief” and that’s what I want to do with Annika over her whole Thomas issue. But of course even the smartest of us do dumb things.
That’s true. And when you get older, you see people (mainly mothers) going through all the same sort of rubbish with their teenagers ….not blaming the teenagers, it is just “what it is” (having just got off the phone with a friend who needed quite a bit of a sympathetic ear over an “incident” with hers….)
I must admit I find this character aggravating. It’s partly because I want her to kick Thomas where it hurts, push him out the door and change the locks (and find it somehow unconvincing that she can be so strong in some areas and so dithering in this one) and partly because I don’t like having unresolved relationships dragged out over multiple books in a series. I also found the bad guy(s) over the top in his/her/their (avoiding spoilers!) excessively ooky evilness. But I’m glad you enjoyed it, Bernadette, and I do see why others like Annika more than I do.
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