Thursday, September 25, 2014

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Annika Bengtzon works nights in Stockholm's Evening Post as a copy editor. A hurricane is in full swing and in its wake leaves a trail littered with everything that toppled under its havoc. It is not the only element that storms the tranquillity-cum-tedium of life in a newspaper office far removed from front line journalism. When a docklands double murder occurs in a disused port at Frihamnen Annika is asked to make a few preliminary calls. The security man who had made the discovery wondered why the corpses should look like he imagined Marty Feldman’s younger brothers to be. The shadow of the Yugoslavian mafia, a stolen cigarette consignment and a large quantity of missing cash helps explain that: the victims’ eyes bulging from the trauma of the gunshot wounds each had sustained.

Annika takes another call and discovers Paradise. The Madonna on the other end of the line is in a foundation which claims to offer women a heavenly respite from the hellish problems they are forced to endure in their lives. It promises to vanish their identities and leave them untraceable and beyond the reach of those who might wish to do them harm. Having been prompted by the caller, at the Paradise Foundation, Annika is encouraged to write a story about the organisation’s mission. Then she meets a young woman in deep trouble and desperately trying to keep a step ahead of the man she believes is determined to end her life. There is a link to the Frihamnen murders and it is clear that if anybody needed a past erased, and quickly, it is Aida. No better place to send her than Paradise. Hell would have been safer and Annika now knows that angels, if there are any, are not the only beings involved with Paradise. 

Thomas Samuelsson works for the local council. He is one of its finance experts. He is growing increasingly frustrated with his wife Eoloner. Since she got the manager’s job at the bank branch where she worked her interest in other things seemed to wane. He contrasted the lack of hardness in her once firm stomach with the libidinal hardness he was enduring and towards which she seemed indifferent. The spill over soon infuses into other areas of their lives. A feminist, she insists on watching a televised debate involving women writers. His response:
A groups of pretentious middle class hags masturbating in front of each other on television. No. You wouldn’t want to miss that would you.

The reader can see where it is destined. Anna no longer has her fiancé from Exposed. So when the Paradise Foundation attempts to win a contract from the council Samuelsson seeks more detail and crosses the path of Annika. New terrain opens up fertile with potential to radically alter or disrupt previous lives. 

Anna’s relationship with her mother is strained. Her grandmother whom she is close to is gravely ill and the aggregated pressures throw her about a bit much like a cork in a choppy sea. A lot of Scandinavian crime fiction balances the private lives of the main characters without alienating the reader. Their woes and tribulations serve as novellas within the novel. 

The seemingly important military figure at the cemetery must know something about Aida whose disquieting grave sent shudders through Annika. She is in automatic pilot now. But Colonel Misik’s attitude to journalists is dismissive: ‘journalists are lackeys, just like soldiers. You just fight with lies instead of guns.’ 

With the rabid anti-communist and career criminal Ratko back in Sweden, clearly some scores had yet to be settled, and so the narrative is driven towards its predictable but worthy conclusion.

This is the second in the sequence of books featuring the sleuthing journalist Annika Bengtzon. While arguably it can pass as a standalone, to get a more rounded feel for the character Vanished should be held back until Exposed becomes explored. 

Liza Marklund, 2012, Vanished. Transworld: London. ISBN 978-0-552-16095-7