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red wolf

3 january 2013

Liza Marklund is "the Queen of Scandinavian Crime Fiction," according to Henning Mankell (in turn, according to the front cover of my copy of Red Wolf). There's a lot of that going around, but Red Wolf is brisk and well-woven, if along (by now) wholly familiar themes.

These themes may be more original with Marklund than I realize, though. The Swedish edition of Red Wolf was published 10 years ago, so her crusading reporters, skullduggery at the highest levels of Swedish politics, and sinister cells of murderers from deep in the past may have influenced Stieg Larsson rather than the other way around. Marklund's series heroine is Annika Bengtzon, fresh from a terrifying encounter with a bomber in The Bomber, which of course I haven't read, coming to all series as I do, perpetually in media res. She's a mother of two who picks the kids up from school, makes the same dish every night, and then tracks down implacable serial killers till it's time to pick the kids up again.

Husband Thomas is getting tired of Annika's type-A behavior, and refreshes himself with a decorous affair with a decorous co-worker. (Thomas is employed by some amorphous quango or other that spends its time in meetings planning the next meeting, another cliché of the Swedish Krimi.) When Annika learns of the affair, she goes into full woman-scorned mode, in a subplot more bracing than the main Maoist-cell-goes-nuts story.

Meanwhile Annika's best friend Anne is having troubles with her own philandering partner Mehmet. These private-life subplots are well-drawn and convincing; they're not mere Bridget-Jonesy flourishes, and the characters in them turn out to be interestingly connected to the web of corruption that spans Marklund's Sweden.

There's also a generous helping of suspense, a well-concealed killer, and some local color (the action alternates between Stockholm and frozen Luleå near the Arctic Circle). Entirely acceptable fare.

Marklund, Liza. Red Wolf. [Den röda vargen, 2003.] Translated by Neil Smith. 2010. New York: Washington Square [Simon & Schuster], 2011.