The Annika Bengtzon series has a slightly confusing history. THE BOMBER, the first book published in Sweden, is actually the fourth chronologically in the series. Fortunately, the novels have been released in series chronology in the United States, so that the newly published RED WOLF follows the events set forth in THE BOMBER. We are still three Bengtzon books behind Sweden; I am not going to attempt to translate the titles, but they form a trilogy, describing events that take place some months after RED WOLF. This is a pivotal work, a perfect place to jump into Bengtzon's life if your acquaintance with Marklund has been limited to THE POSTCARD KILLERS, her recent collaboration with James Patterson.
Bengtzon is an investigative reporter for a Swedish tabloid newspaper who often finds that she becomes, rather than reports on, the story. She is back at her desk after some time off following the traumatic events of THE BOMBER. Those events --- skillfully recounted here to bring readers unfamiliar with them up to date --- have caused Bengtzon some problems personally and professionally, and, interestingly enough, led to a significant if unintentional political upheaval. At the office, Bengtzon's editors are looking at her with a somewhat jaundiced but careful eye, concerned that her ability to zero in on and pursue a story will cause the paper difficulty just as it regains circulation in a particularly tough market.
Bengtzon's decision to do a report on a long-ago, unsolved terrorist attack at a remote Swedish military airbase is reluctantly approved by her editor as an article she can write without getting into trouble. That changes when a reporter at a small local paper is killed in an apparent accident just before Bengtzon is supposed to interview him. In direct opposition to the orders of her editor, she keeps digging and soon finds that the reporter's death was no accident at all. A series of apparently unconnected murders soon follow, and it is Bengtzon --- nosing around and poking into garbage cans and fireplaces --- who discovers the connection.
Meanwhile, Bengtzon's husband, Thomas, had gotten used to having a full-time wife around the estates, a situation that permitted him to work late and pursue his hobbies, such as a regular tennis game on a weekly basis, without having to concern himself with sharing the logistical management of a household with two school-aged children. Bengtzon's return to work changes all that, and Thomas wants things back to the way they were. He also finds himself desiring an attractive woman with whom he has been thrown together on a work project, one who has set her sights on him as well.
American readers somewhat unfamiliar with Swedish politics, culture and mores may find themselves just a bit unbalanced by how things work --- and don't --- in Marklund's description of Sweden and particularly Stockholm. Those of us of a certain age who know Sweden primarily by reputation as a haven for open relationships and free love are liable to be somewhat surprised if they didn't get the bulletin that the experiment, not to mention socialism, hasn't quite worked out as intended. There were even a couple of times when my inner voice exclaimed, "These white folks is crazy!"
Nonetheless, the themes explored here --- passion, power, money, jealousy, and betrayal on more than one level --- are universal, and presented in RED WOLF through a wonderfully darkened and unblinking glass. I cannot wait for those next three volumes to see what happens in Bengtzon's world.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011