Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Red Wolf by Liza Marklund was published in Sweden as Den Roda Vargen in 2003, but we have had to wait till 2010 for this translation by Neil Smith, deputy editor of Swedish Book Review.
Crime journalist Annika Bengtzon, recovering from the traumas that she faced in The Bomber, is working on the story of a terrorist attack at the F21 base at Kallax, outside Lulea, which occurred in November 1969. A Draken fighter-plane exploded, and a young conscript died after being horrifically burned.
She travels north to find that Benny Ekland, the journalist she was due to meet, had been killed in a hit and run accident. She meets a young witness , Linus Gustafsson, who tells her that the accident was in fact cold blooded murder and decides to dig deeper. She learns about Ragnwald, [ragn-divine power, vald-ruler], a member of a left wing group, who disappeared decades earlier, and became a professional killer for ETA.
Her witness, Linus, is murdered, and then there are other victims whose families receive handwritten Maoist tracts in the post.
Has Ragnwald returned and why?
Annika painstakingly pieces together this story of misguided young left wing revolutionaries, while her obnoxious boss Anders Schyman schemes to block his business rivals, and her pathetic husband Thomas is unfaithful.

Red Wolf is an excitingly detailed, not to be missed, thriller in which Liza Marklund deals with among other things, many of the problems faced today by women.
Annika Bengtzon is a heroine trying to cope with a demanding job, even more demanding children, whom she adores, a philandering husband, and close friends with similar problems.
It is part of Annika's charm that she is not perfect, and she can be devious and even hysterical at times. This makes her seem like a real person, and not some kind of fantasy figure.
Liza Marklund's language when describing Sweden's social problems is terse and concise:

This really was another country, or at least another town. Not Lulea, and not really Sweden. Annika let the car drift through the shanty town, astonished by its atmosphere.
The Estonian countryside, she thought. Polish suburbs.

Annika seemingly has very little time for those spoilt children from the social democratic rich countries, who chose to follow a violent path, however temporarily.

The ruler with divine power-not a bad alias. Did it actually mean anything, other than delusions of grandeur?
But then what was terrorism, if not that?

More than anything I enjoyed as someone who was a student during the turbulent 1960s the political wisdom and insight contained in the pages of Red Wolf, a lot of which is applicable today to a slightly different situation.

'But surely they were communists as well?'
'Oh yes ,' Berit said, wiping her chin with the napkin. 'But nothing upset the rebels more than those who almost thought like them.'

I do hope we get the remaining Annika Bengtzon books translated soon, and hope that the translation of Red Wolf was not a side effect of the Stieg Larsson phenomena, or the association with JP, but on its own merits.

In September Maxine at Petrona cleverly analyzed the elements that defined Stieg Larsson's three novels, and that could be used to liken other novelists to him.

Liza Marklund had already written five novels between 1999 and 2003 [The Bomber, Studio69, Paradise, Prime Time and Red Wolf] before the first Stieg Larsson was published, and it is interesting that many of those elements could apply to her books as well.

1] They have exciting plots with the heroine frequently in danger.
2] There is a central female character. Although Annika Bengtzon is not as "unusual" as Lisbeth Salander she is a character women can identify with, and men want to be with.
3] Annika Bengtzon is a campaigning journalist, as is Blomqvist.
4] In Larsson's world the baddies are very bad and the goodies good. In Liza's books Annika is a real person and far from perfect, while some of the baddies have perhaps made the wrong choices in life.
5] Each of the three Larsson books is different, TGWTDT [Tattoo] is a variation on the locked room mystery, TGWPWF [Fire] is a fugitive drama, and TGWKTHN [Hornets Nest] is a political spy thriller.
Marklund's books are also variations on a theme with people in an isolated manor house in Prime Time [I have not read this one], and international criminal gangs and social service swindles in Paradise.
6] There are lots of detail in both Stieg Larsson's, and Liza Marklund's books.
We get details of how Annika gets her information in Sweden's very open society, and of the machinations involved in running a newspaper.
7] There is a curiosity factor concerning the author.
Larsson because of his campaigning journalism and early death, Marklund because she is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and an attractive woman.
8] The books of both authors are set at an easy reading level, although I found Marklund's books a lot easier to read.
9] The Larsson books are now successful films, and there will be Hollywood versions! Some of Marklund's books have been filmed, and there are more in the pipeline.
10] Both authors books have won awards in other countries before their publication in English.

There are also differences between the books, and the characters in them, for instance Annika Bengtzon is married and heterosexual, while Lisabeth Salander is single and bisexual. But another element that links these books is that the male characters are bland, and usually weak, in comparison with the strong female leads.
Maxine has given us a template for deciding in future whether the blurbs "The Next Stieg Larsson" or "Reminiscent of Stieg Larsson' are a valid comparison.


Blogger Dorte H said...

I agree that though there are differences, it definitely makes sense to compare her books to Stieg LarssonĀ“s. They are the same type of pageturner thriller.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Mediations said...

Good stuff Norman. I saw this just as I was writing about Marklund's sense of place, highlighting a very similar passage http://bit.ly/c2Hw4b.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Mediations said...

Good stuff, Norman. I saw this just as I was writing about Marklund's sense of place, highlighting a very similar passage http://bit.ly/c2Hw4b.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Philip, I like your photos of Skane.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

......and of course Maj Sjowall and all the rest.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

What a lovely post, Norman. Great review, and wonderful account of the appeal of Liza M's books. Like you, I am a huge fan. I love the way you bat the "obnoxious" boss and the "pathetic" husband off to the boundary. Interesting that in the (chronological) first Annika book, she had an obnoxious boyfriend, then she met Thomas who was a pathetic husband (of someone else), then he became unpathetic for a bit while he wooed Annika, now he is utterly ghastly, and just as pathetic as he was when married to the previous wife. Poor Annika! But she won't let it get her down.

Thanks very much for the (too) kind mentions.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

You and Maxine are in cahoots aren't you? Forcing me to read Marklund's books. I have scrounged around and found the first one (chronologically) and it is nearing the top of the TBR pile - Maxine said I had to start at the beginning so it'll be a while until I get to this one but you've made it sound very appealing.

10:01 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Sounds good. I must read this book and/or others by Liza Marklund, but they are not in my city's library system (except a few in Italian! and the one co-written with the unmentionable).

The politics I'd have to wend my way through. I was around in the 60s and active, and have not given up my youthful idealism nor my outrage at horrendous poverty, suffering and war around the world.

However, I'm sure I'll be duly aggravated by the methods employed in this book by egotistical individuals.

I guess it's the Book Depository or waiting for Amazon.

1:22 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine. I was inspired by bot your Larsson post and slightly by the fact the weather was horrendous so I did not venture out. I have developed a fear of slipping on wet pavements, but am fine walking on soft muddy leaves- reverting to childhood.

I always identify characters like Schyman and Thomas with people I have met in real life, although no fiction writer would go as far as some real life events.
It is a tribute to the author that I feel like sitting down and writing to Annika explaining it would be far better to boot Thomas out now........or alternatively I could be nuts.

2:03 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Bernadette, I am sure you will enjoy Liza Marklund's books. I don't only read them so that I can post photos of the attractive author. ;0)

2:09 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kathy, I am sure you will enjoy Liza Marklund's books.
Last night we watched a program On The Street about people living rough in London.
We realised our youthful idealism was still there,
but a bit crushed after years of political ineptitude by our governments.

2:31 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I never put my hope in governments, although I do cheer on tiny steps in the right direction when they happen, a bill for equal pay for women, for example, a few things.

My idealism isn't about governments or elections. It's about people.

Europe is ahead of my country in many respects, as in health care and education. But these budget cuts here and there will hurt.

Hopefully, people will respond en masse--not as Marklund's characters do. More like the Civil Rights, women's and gay movements have over the decades.
And unions used to do.

I can't wait to read her books. "Paradise" I can't get now unless I want to pay Amazon $599! (I kid you not.) So perhaps I'll wait until the reissues.

Have a great day.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kathy, I think we in Europe and especially in the UK are losing the middle class. I think you have the same problem. The gap between rich and poor is widening, and our present government [19 millionaires] is about as close to ordinary people as the CABAL of Charles II.
Healthcare and education will suffer from the cuts. Already we have problems http://www.midstaffsinquiry.com/

Although I received fantastic free treatment earlier in the year, when I shattered my patella, everyone in my ward was terrified of catching MRSA and other bugs that are regular visitors to our hospital.

I think we have lived through the best of times, and it will take decades for our grandchildren to aspire to our standard of living we had.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I think you are right about that, having lived through the better times and things will deteriorate.

Here, across the pond, folks are shocked on a liberal tv network, that a bipartisan commission named by the president, just came out calling for cuts in Social Security.

The bottom just fell out on this one.

One-half of women aged 65 and over mainly live on these benefits, one-third of men.

People who've lost jobs due to the financial crisis here, who are in their 60s, as a friend of mine, only receive these benefits.

We'll see what happens and who stands up to oppose this.

At least in England there is opposition and strong protests. Here, things move slowly and people are lost as to what to do.

It does make me reminisce about the 60s, at least people weren't stagnant and depressed, they were doing something.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

Yes, it is very sad, especially as some people have lived their whole lives abusing the welfare system (I know some of them) which makes it all the harder for those many honest and genunine people who need it through no fault of their own.

I agree with you Norman (and Kathy) that the future genereations have a heavy burden to carry. Now I am using up my life savings on ensuring my children get an education without coming out of it saddled with debts. That's fine, I could not think of a better thing to spend my money on, but I appreciate that many people are not in this situation.

I have experienced a shocking degeneration in the ability of the health care system to treat and diagnose over the past 10 years, it is really, utterly shocking.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Martin Edwards said...

I really enjoyed this analysis of Marklund, whom I must read, and Larsson.

6:18 AM  

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