(April 24, 1975 Baader-Meinhof Gang seizure and explosion of the West German Embassy in Sweden)
When I first read Leif G.W. Persson’s BETWEEN SUMMER LONGING AND WINTER’S END I was thoroughly impressed with his plot and character development. Now, having completed his second novel, ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE my respect for his ability to develop a complex story line that builds from the first few pages has been raised to another level. Persson brings back Lars Martin Johannson, now head of a special new operations division within the Swedish Security Police (SePo). He also develops other characters that are both witty and knowledgeable on the one hand, and other characters that can be described as plain “fucking idiots,” by Johannson’s friend and impeccable inspector, Bo Jarnebring.
The opening of the novel revisits April 24, 1975 as six terrorists, who appear to be members of the Baader-Meinhof Group, sneak into the West German Embassy in Stockholm. During the occupation two German bureaucrats, one thrown out of a window, the other shot in a stairwell are murdered. The Swedish forces who confront the situation are ill equipped and poorly trained to deal with the situation. The end result is an explosion, with everyone surviving, but one individual. What follows is a “keystone kop” operation among different government officials as to how to handle the investigation. At the top levels of government a decision is reached to return the surviving terrorists to Berlin before they can be thoroughly interrogated, thereby sabotaging any investigation. The head of homicide is completely frustrated and the final report on the incident is totally sanitized.
Fifteen years later, Bo Jarnebring and his new partner, Anna Holt are called in to investigate the murder of Kjell Goron Eriksson, a bureaucrat at the Central Bureau of Statistics. From this point on the novel gains momentum as the new murder investigation does not proceed smoothly and is led by the previously mentioned, “fucking idiot,” Chief Investigator Evert Backstrom and his equally incompetent partner, Inspector Wiijnbladh. Predictably, the murder is not solved and is filed away.
In the interim the Berlin Wall comes down and the Soviet bloc is freed from the remnants of Stalinist oppression. Persson provides an accurate summation of the historical events that led up to, and the final collapse of Erich Honaker’s East German regime. Enter, the STASI, the CIA, and Swedish national security interests adding another layer to an already complex story. Always in the background is the 1986 unsolved assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme and possible links to certain characters. As a SePo task force is created under Chief Inspector Wiklander and STASI and other registered files are examined a new element to the plot is added. What emerges is what role could Swedish citizens have played in the 1975 terrorist seizure and explosion of the West German Embassy.
What separates Persson from other political novelists is his ability to tie together a number of story lines together forming a complex plot developed layer upon layer. In the present example; how does the terrorist attack on the West German Embassy, the murder of a Swedish bureaucrat, the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall*, and the vetting of an undersecretary in the Swedish defense ministry for a possible cabinet position relate to each other.
Persson weaves a trail of intrigue over a twenty-five year period. It involves numerous characters and important historical events. Along the way we witness the death of a number of individuals central to the plot line. Persson creates a number of enigmatic characters from the incompetent Backstrom; Anna Holt and two other talented female colleagues; Mike Liska, a CIA agent posted to Sweden in November, 1989 who predicted the exact moment when the Berlin Wall would fall; and of course the well respected Lars Martin Johannson. The author does a commendable job providing insights into the Swedish National Security establishment and develops a number of interesting scenarios.
As attempts to tie events into one conceivable case that can be prosecuted the protagonists are up against a twenty-five year statute of limitations that is about to expire. The question arises that higher ups in the Swedish government may be placing road blocks in their path. In addition, what is the role of the STASI, CIA, and SePo? Did the Swedish security and defense industry interests and perhaps the American intelligence community leak information to prevent a leftist leaning candidate for a cabinet position relating to defense from assuming office? Do certain disappearances of former officials play into the story? All of these questions add to the depth of the narrative.
Paul Norlern’s translation from the Swedish does not detract from Persson’s tightly written novel. In fact, my only criticism is Persson’s somewhat sexist approach to female investigators that are woven into the story. Overall, Persson has written another successful novel, and I look forward to reading his latest, FREE FALLING AS IF IN A DREAM.
*see The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall,Oct 7, 2014, by Mary Elise Sarotte
reviewed in http://www.docs-books.com