Marklund, Liza - 'Last Will' (translated by Neil Smith)
December. Stockholm City Hall. The Nobel Prize-giving ceremonies. A woman stands outside the Hall and grinds out the remains of her cigarette. She marks off the stages of her assignment, the text message saying that the target was leaving the Blue Hall for the Golden Hall. Concentrating on looking cold and vulnerable in her evening dress and high heels, she heads towards the police officers at the building's entrance. As one of them prepares to stop her, she throws out her arms as if slipping. He grabs her arm to save her and she mutters something in English and moves inside the courtyard. So easy. Inside the Blue Hall, journalist Annika Bengtzon rises from her chair and politely acknowledges her seating partner, the managing editor of Science. She stands taking stock of the great and good surrounding her and, greeted by a fellow journalist from another paper, she gratefully allows herself to be swept off to the dancing in the Golden Hall. The woman known as The Kitten is there already, moving amongst the dancers, her gun heavy in her shoulder purse, looking for her target. Target found, she raises her arm on the pretext of dropping her phone into her bag and reaches for her gun. A loudly laughing figure knocks into her and she slips, treading on someone's foot. She looks into a woman's heavily made-up eyes. Shaken, she presses on with the job, concentrating. One shot to the man's leg, next shot to the woman's heart. Leave as the screams start.
Annika is face down on the marble floor. Someone is throwing up next to her. Someone else is standing on her hand. A man lifts her up and sits her next to the wall. Security men are everywhere in the chaos of the hall. Where is her bag? She must phone her editor. When a policeman comes to take her details, even when he takes her into another room to wait to be interviewed, Annika can think only of calling her paper. As luck would have it, or perhaps it is not luck, her interviewer is her police contact, Q. Did he just call her "a headline-chasing bitch"? He asks again about the woman who trod on her foot. What did she look like? What happened next? What did Annika see and hear? Two muffled noises. The man collapsing. His partner is looking at him in surprise as he falls – and then down at her own breast and her own blood. She looks into Annika's eyes as she dies.
Marklund has described her own work process as one in which, after the initial research and synopsis phase, she unplugs the phone and sits down to write "fast and concentrated,... almost like running a marathon". LAST WILL hits the reader with the same engagement. Its opening scenes of assassination at the Nobel Award ceremonies pin Marklund's reporter, Annika Bengtzon, right at the heart of the crime and her tension and stress will increase as she finds herself unable to write the ultimate eyewitness story because of the gagging order placed on her due to her role as prime witness. As with earlier books in the series there is a strong focus on Annika's personal life and her struggle to combine her roles as wife and mother with her obsessive drive to succeed with her own investigative skills and ambition. In LAST WILL the tension of her emotional struggle is equal to the suspense of the criminal plot. Indeed it seems all-consuming as the ban on her reporting increases her isolation at work and leaves her thrown onto the rocks within her marriage. By the time she decides to continue the family's planned move to a new home in a suburban neighbourhood, her isolation has become almost complete. Combine this with the her own apparent danger as an eyewitness to a professional "hit" and one starts to feel as ragged and sleepless as Annika herself. There is plenty of social observation feeding into the story: insight into the politics of science and the pressure of changes within the media. However there were times when I felt a bit lost in the relationship between the main plot and the constantly referenced life and times of Alfred Nobel himself. When asked about her readers anticipating the outcome of a plot, Marklund has said: "I think readers are after the journey of the novel, and that's everything BUT the solution". Fortunately this is most probably a good analysis of my own enjoyment of crime fiction and if I got a bit lost over some of the detail towards the end of this novel – I don't care. The pace of this book is flawless.
Liza Marklund has also said that it doesn't matter in which order you read her Annika Bengtzon books as she herself doesn't write them in chronological order, having started with the "fourth" in terms of journalist Annika Bengtzon's life and career. LAST WILL is the sixth in the series to be translated into English, this time by the sure skills of Neil Smith. And I say too – read them in whatever order you like, but do read them. Not least this nail-biter, LAST WILL.
Lynn Harvey, England