I am perplexed at my own reaction to LAST WILL, Liza Marklund’s latest novel to be translated from her native Swedish (with the able abilities of Neil Smith) and published in the United States. I found the book to be wonderful.
It is a mesmerizing story about a dangerous, borderline psychotic assassin who is targeting members of the Nobel Prize Committee and seemingly anyone else who gets in her way. I find the main character, Annika Bengtzon, a bit difficult to deal with. I cannot imagine spending more than five minutes talking with her on any real-world situation; she is impulsive, clueless (a description confirmed by her husband Thomas, who, admittedly, isn’t exactly a prince among men, either) and exercises horrible judgment. However, she is tenacious, loyal to a fault (even when not in her best interest, which is more often than not), and, as demonstrated inarguably by the book’s conclusion, courageous.
"The ending is great. Stunningly great. It is deadly and explosive, and by the time the dust settles and the smoke clears, everything changes, or has the potential to do so."
LAST WILL is the second of the Annika Bengtzon novels to be published in the U.S. (the first being RED WOLF, in 2011). There are a number of volumes in the series that precede RED WOLF; LAST WILL picks up, more or less, where RED WOLF left off. It’s a tantalizing mystery, made more so by the murderous assassin, known as The Kitten, at the book’s core. The murder that she commits at a celebratory party in Stockholm on Nobel Day leaves Bengtzon as the best witness to identify The Kitten and, ironically, under a police gag order. This causes a bit of a strain with her employer, a popular tabloid newspaper that is in the process of transforming itself for the electronic age and is kind of looking for an excuse to get rid of her anyway.
The situation puts Bengtzon at loose ends. Placed on what the Europeans call a “garden holiday,” she begins investigating the murder on her own, consumed not only by the question of The Kitten’s identity but also by the issue of who, or what, sent the assassin on her mission. The answer goes back in time and hinges on a complex (but, thanks to Marklund’s narrative skills, easy-to-follow) trail that goes back in time to an unexpected but plausible incident that is now coming back to bite the doers on the posterior, and fatally so.
But Bengtzon’s professional life is nowhere near as tough as her personal one. She and her husband buy a house in the suburbs and encounter a series of difficulties, both internally and externally. At the same time, Bengtzon’s relationship with Thomas is complicated, to say the least. Having previously caught him in an affair, she has forgiven him, but not forgotten the betrayal, and it comes back to rear its head in LAST WILL. Additionally, Thomas has started a new and most important position, one in which he is setting policy that has the potential to butt up against Bengtzon’s own principles. These elements come to a head here, even as The Kitten discovers that Bengtzon can identify her and begins taking steps to clean up that loose end.
As one can imagine, LAST WILL has the potential for an earth-shattering conclusion. Marklund takes that potential and cubes it. The ending is great. Stunningly great. It is deadly and explosive, and by the time the dust settles and the smoke clears, everything changes, or has the potential to do so. Swedish readers already know what has happened, and one can only hope that we here in the U.S. will not have to wait a year to feast upon the next installment.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 4, 2012