I will confess at the outset that 1) I am not entirely enamored with investigative reporter Annika Bengtzon, but 2) the addictive series of novels by Liza Marklund --- quite ably translated by Neil Smith --- featuring her exploits are on my “must read” list. Let me put it another way: when Annika’s husband, Thomas (and no, I don’t care much for him, either), summarily dumps her at the end of LAST WILL and the beginning of LIFETIME, and takes up with his mistress, I could kind of understand his reasoning without condoning his actions. Yet, when Annika gains some measure of over-the-top revenge in this latest Bengtzon novel to see publication in the United States, I felt like cheering; she got points for style and execution. Conflicted much? You bet.
"Marklund’s oft-demonstrated ability to balance plot and character in equal measure makes this a must-read."
Annika is one of those protagonists who is not entirely likable or sympathetic; it is, however, almost compulsory for one to admire her for being so dogged and determined. Such comes to the forefront in LIFETIME, which begins moments after LAST WILL ends. Everyone has nasty problems here. Annika’s house has just burned down, mere moments after her husband has left her, leaving her and her children without clothes, communication, money, or shelter. A mess, indeed.
Meanwhile, an intriguing mystery is developing that haunts the novel from first page to last. Stockholm police officer Nina Hoffman is on patrol when she answers a “shots fired” call at an address she knows all too well. When Hoffman arrives on the scene, she finds David Lindholm, a highly regarded police officer, dead in bed. His wife, Julia, who is a childhood friend of Nina’s and also a police officer, is in shock, hovering by the body --- with her service revolver nearby --- insisting that a strange woman shot David and took their young son, Alexander. Indeed, Alexander is missing, but it looks very much as if Julia was the shooter. Though it is somewhat improper of her to do so, Nina takes charge of the investigation, trying nonetheless to do things by the book, with the nearly inescapable conclusion that Julia not only murdered her husband but also killed their child and hid his body.
The only person who believes Julia is Annika. Julia and Nina, interestingly enough, were the subjects of an article that Annika wrote several years previously, and while Annika has had no contact with either woman since that time, she does feel a tenuous bond with Julia. Her lone-wolf investigation is hardly appreciated by the police department at any level, and between her personal disasters and professional distractions (in addition to the house fire and her husband deserting her, her newspaper is undergoing draconian personnel cuts), it seems unlikely that Annika is going to establish Julia’s innocence. There is one way she can...but only if she lives long enough to do it.
There is a nagging question that floats quietly throughout LIFETIME, which is hinted at but never stated. Marklund saves the answer for the story’s end, and it puts the entire book in a different perspective, as well as possibly setting things up for another volume or two in the series. She is a master at tying off the main mystery of each of her novels while keeping a few threads, mysterious and otherwise, dangling at the conclusion; LIFETIME is no exception to this rule. Marklund’s oft-demonstrated ability to balance plot and character in equal measure makes this a must-read.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 10, 2013