I am always amazed when an author can come up with a new concept to explore in the mystery/espionage genre. One country that seems to keep producing such authors is Sweden, and alas they have done it again with Joakim Zander. The author has lived in Syria and Israel and earned a law degree in the Netherlands and spent his career as a lawyer for the European Union in Brussels and Helsinki. This background contributed greatly to his first novel, THE SWIMMER that has been greeted with great acclaim. The story line is somewhat different as Zander explores the role of American outsourcing of prisoner interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Zander creates a “Blackwater” type of organization that he calls “Digital Solutions,” which seems to be a dummy company that was kept heavily in the “shadows” to maintain deniability and protect those in charge. The leaders of Digital Solutions become aware that there is evidence of their “enhanced interrogation” techniques, i.e.; torture at the time of the Abu Ghraib fiasco and they will do anything to get control of the evidence. The scenario is believable and Zander has complete control of the political and diplomatic history that is involved. An interesting example is his suggestion through his characters how the first Bush administration treated the Kurds in 1991. The CIA agent leads his Kurdish allies to believe that American help will be forthcoming to protect them for Saddam Hussein’s revenge. As history has shown that protection never was provided and the Bush administration allowed Saddam’s forces to crush the Kurds, probably employing chemical weapons. These types of observations reflect the strong political views that Zander holds that appear throughout the book.
The story centers on a number of interesting characters. As Zander develops them he does so in a very slow methodical fashion particularly the CIA operative who spends a good part of the book in search of his daughter who survived a terrorist explosion in Damascus in 1980. The most important characters are Klara Walldeen, a political aide to a member of the European Union Parliament in Brussels and a former boyfriend, Mahmoud Shammosh, a Ph.D candidate whose dissertation dealt with the privatization of war, who involves her in the scenario where explosive evidence of what Digital Solutions is guilty of exists. Another interesting character out of the Stieg-Larsson mold is “Blitzie,” a skinny teenaged hacker who will present a number of interesting surprises. The reader is taken into the world of the CIA and its outsourced programs and what they are capable of doing if things do not go as planned. The reader is also exposed to the world of lobbyists to the European Parliament and the influence which they possess. One member of a lobby firm, George Loow is also drawn into the tentacles of Digital Solutions and it is through him that Zander triers to create an effective morality play which sometimes is effective. The plot revolves around a number of storylines that shift back and forth from the 1980s and Christmas, 2013. At times this can be confusing as Zander does not integrate his CIA operative in search of his daughter as effectively as he might have.
No matter what minor flaws may exist in Zander’s debut novel, he more that makes up for it with an engrossing plot that is very contemporary and believable. Zander definitely has an agenda that centers around the morality that the “world on terror” has produced that is evident in the conclusion of the book, but whatever your politics this book is a read that will capture your attention until you reach the final paragraph