Marklund, Liza - 'The Bomber' (translated by Neil Smith)
A woman hurries through the dark streets of Stockholm in the small hours of a December night. Impatient, she walks briskly in the direction of one of the Olympic arenas, a cold wind cutting through her elegant clothes. Some while later Annika Bengtzon is woken from a dream by a phone call. The night editor of her paper is ringing to tell her that the Victoria Stadium is on fire. Can Annika get down there and cover the story for the morning edition? Dressing quickly, placating her husband and kissing her sleeping daughter, Annika makes the difficult journey to the stadium where she and her photographer weigh up the chaos and organise their story.
The stadium is one of the principal sites for the forthcoming Olympics with construction work still to be completed. Now it looks as though an explosion caused the fire and when Annika and the photographer spot an ambulance arriving they know that there has been at least one casualty, perhaps even a death. Annika calls the stadium's security firm to check out their response routine and gets evasive answers. She begins to suspect that the security alarms were not triggered. A fault? Or was the alarm system deliberately turned off? Does that mean sabotage, perhaps an act of terrorism? Was it even an inside job? When Annika calls her police contact he confirms her suspicions; the alarms were turned off and, yes, someone has died. But he tells her that she mustn't go public with these facts yet, that would endanger the police investigation.
Back at the newspaper office the news team assembles for a story meeting but Annika, as its newly appointed crime chief, has trouble maintaining control of the story. The night editor and one of the older crime reporters are both determined to pursue the terrorist angle. Annika can't stop them without revealing her police source's confirmation of an inside job before the agreed time. Her opposition serves only to fuel their antagonism. She wonders who would want to be a new boss trying to make changes.
Well not the book's author, Liza Marklund. In her end-piece for this Corgi edition of THE BOMBER she explains how she came to write the "Annika Bengtzon" crime series out of chronological sequence. Having decided to give up her own job as head of daily news broadcasting for Sweden's TV4 in order to write novels full time, Marklund had mapped out ideas for several stories. She chose to begin with the subject closest to her own experience and started with "the book where Annika Bengtzon became a boss..." Marklund goes on to add: "I'm glad I'm no longer a boss. Having read THE BOMBER you'll understand why".
Marklund does indeed create a convincing character with Annika Bengtzon who is a career woman struggling under the impossible task of "fitting in" and "standing out". Annika is obsessed with her news stories and with her success at getting them right and out onto the streets before the other papers. But she also wants to be a successful mother and wife. Guilt makes for a short temper, particularly when some of her own editorial team at the paper are busy digging the ground from underneath her feet. She does have a supportive boss, which is a relief both for her and for the reader.
The events in THE BOMBER take place during the week running up to Christmas, so coincidentally this book brought a truly thrilling slant to my reading over the recent Christmas festivities. The story runs at a sharp pace which is gripping and exciting. Marklund's characters are well developed and rounded; their back stories seem well researched but the details do not overwhelm the story thread. Instead the characters speak as individuals albeit sometimes rather extreme ones. The frequent plot summaries provided by Annika Bengtzon's editorial meetings with her team are a seamless way for Marklund to give the reader a break down of "the plot so far", just in case we get lost. For me these techniques work to build an absorbing and vivid read and the suspense when Bengtzon herself comes under threat is well maintained right to the end. A fast-paced crime thriller with a strong female protagonist, I enjoyed THE BOMBER a lot. This edition appears to be one of a series of new translations of "Annika Bengtzon" titles by Neil Smith for Corgi, so I shall look forward to reading more.
Read another review of THE BOMBER.
Lynn Harvey, England