Liza Marklund sure knows how to create an iconic female crime-fighting character: take some gutsiness, coupled with a good dose of instinct and investigative skill, put it together with a charming note of vulnerability, and you have Annika Bengtzon, the feisty heroine of no less than nine Liza Marklund novels, who is now back in Marklund’s new novel Borderline.
Renowned Swedish writer Marklund has said that the character of Annika has been with her since her childhood in the small village of Pålmark, where she created early stories of Annika, who “was busy catching villains even back then. She was sly and strong, and got herself into trouble, but she always triumphed in the end.” Renowned as a writer with a “social conscience”, Markland’s astute depiction of political and social circumstances has always left a strong impression on readers of her crime thrillers, and it is no accident that her Bengtzen series has become one of the most popular crime series to emerge out of Europe in recent years.
In Marklund’s ninth Bengtzen novel, Annika is back home in Sweden working as a journalist on The Evening Post after spending years in Washington as a foreign correspondent. Feeling disillusioned about returning to the same situation workwise and life-wise that she thought she had left far behind, Annika becomes intrigued by a string of murders of women around the city, the latest of which is a young mother who has been found on a wintery morning behind her son’s preschool. Without support from her work, Annika begins to investigate, only to be completely de-railed by the news of the kidnapping of her on again-off-again husband Thomas, who had been on a delegation to Kenya seemingly advising on the strengthening of national frontiers, but which is actually an attempt by the Swedish government to stop the flow of African immigration into Europe. The official ransom demand from the kidnappers is for $40 million, and it is up to Annika to race against time to try and bring Thomas home.
As Thomas tells his story in first person, the narrative switches between different viewpoints and between Sweden and Africa. There is a lot of background to the hostage situation in Kenya/Somalia, as Marklund manages to quietly slip in a solid framework of the political situation within Africa, where the obvious corruptness and violence that occurs is counterbalanced to the more obfuscated corruptness and violence within Sweden. This means that the reader is left to consider the many parallels of these seemingly incomparable countries, and the subtle influences this has on every aspect of the Swedish (and African) characters’ lives. This exposé, coupled with the “normal every-day” worries that Annika also has to contend with – worries about her two children, her relationship with her mother etc. – really do make for a finely tuned narrative that flows and engages and keeps the reader spellbound until the very last page.
It has been Liza Marklund’s trade mark to let the Annika Bengtzen series unfold slowly and out of chronological order, and to have a particular theme for each new novel that is explored through the plotline and the personal development of Annika herself. Having stated that she has several more stories in mind for Annika Bengtzen, Marklund is sure not to keep her fans waiting for too long for the next instalment of this brilliant series.