Monday 20 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: LAST WILL by Liza Marklund translated by Neil Smith

The fifth post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a review, written in 2012, by Petrona Award co-creator and former Petrona Award judge Sarah Ward, of the very first winner of the Petrona Award:  LAST WILL by Liza Marklund which was translated by Neil Smith and published by Corgi in 2012.

Liza Marklund was one of my finds of last year. The excellent VANISHED, featuring reporter Annika Bengtzon was a well-paced intelligent thriller with an interesting protagonist. The series has been both written and translated out of chronological order which can make it confusing for the reader, however as my latest read LAST WILL shows, each book can easily be read as a standalone.

At the end of VANISHED Annika had had a fling with an unhappily married man and was pregnant with his child. In LAST WILL, however, it is now Annika who is in a failing marriage where the pressures of work and children are pushing her and her husband Thomas apart. She attends the Nobel prize ceremony with Bosse, a journalist from a rival newspaper and is witness to a mass shooting. Annika catches a glimpse of the gunwoman's face which immediately makes her a police witness and she is therefore barred from reporting the event. This brings her into conflict with her newspaper and she is put on indefinite leave. Feeling isolated in her new suburban family house, Annika starts investigating the shooting which leads her into the labyrinth-like politics of biotech research. 

This is a complexly plotted book that nevertheless grips the reader. The mystery of the shooting is the central story and we get the narrative of both Annika and the shooter, who is a satisfyingly ruthless and compelling character. Annika, as usual, is admirable for her tenacity and her fragile grip on her personal circumstances. She is taken advantage of by her selfish friend Anne, ignored by her husband and runs into conflict with a new neighbour. Her character is so painfully true to life and you feel for Annika as her plans for a future with her family begin to fall apart. She is clearly trying to do the right thing by moving into a new home and resisting the advances of Bosse, whom she feels attracted to.

The book is also interspersed with extracts relating to the life of Alfred Nobel. The book would have been as good a read without them, but they were interesting enough and did relate to the plot. I've read a couple of novels recently about the machinations of the biotech industry and this book had the feel of one that had been extensively researched. It was particularity good on the rivalries that lie behind advancement of medicine and the difficulties that women face in the industry.

The popularity of Swedish crime fiction is sometimes dismissed as riding on the coattails of Stieg  Larsson and Henning Mankell, but as this book shows, some of the best crime fiction being written today comes from Scandinavia. 

Sarah Ward @Crimepieces

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