I am often asked to name my favourite crime fiction author, or character, or other "favourite". These questions are impossible to answer and of course the response changes with time and mood. When I am asked to name my favourite female character in crime fiction, however, more often than not, my answer is Annika Bengtzon, Liza Marklund's newspaper journalist.
It is a while since I've read any novels by Marklund, having some time ago read (in chronological order) Studio 69, Paradise, Prime Time and The Bomber, which tell the story of Annika's struggles to overcome childhood problems, her relationship with a sports star, her continuing friendship with Anne Snapphane, how Annika finds an "in" as a subeditor, gradually working her way to become a senior reporter as she breaks a number of political scandals and criminal cases. Annika and Anne struggle with their love-lives, and eventually in later novels the issues of "having it all" – a decent job, young children and associated domestic responsibilities. More than anyone else in novels I've read, Annika's juggling seems to reflect that of real women, based on those I know and work with – and it is a constant feature in the novels, not just an aside. As well as this, Annika is a principled journalist, determined to write serious, investigative, campaigning stories rather than coast or "dumb down". Again, her professional life is presented with realism, undoubtedly because of the author's own background. The fictional character, however, is aided in her goals by her contact within the police force, whose identity is revealed after several books in the series, enabling her to break and report a number of high-profile scoops and scandals, more than one of which put her in personal danger.
Another interesting aspect of Liza Marklund's writing is that she wrote her books out of chronological order. She wanted to write about the experience of a journalist being kidnapped by a terrorist, which forms the plot of The Bomber (book 4). She then turned the clock back, and the next three novels tell Annika's back story.
It has been a while since English-language readers have been able to catch up with Annika, as her English publisher did not continue with the series. Luckily for us, Transworld have taken her on, and her next Annika book, Red Wolf, comes out in October this year under the Corgi imprint, translated by Neil Smith. I have been given an advance proof copy of the novel by the ever-generous Karen of Euro Crime, and have just finished it. It is marvellous, taking place soon after the events described in The Bomber, when Annika returns to work after having taken a few months' sick leave, but I shall write no more about it for now. I'll submit my review to Euro Crime and I hope it will be out in October to coincide with publication. In the meantime, I thought I would share a brief excerpt from the novel, an exchange between Annika's husband Thomas and a colleague at his work:
"Does your wife work?" Sophia asked, sipping her drink.
He let out a deep sigh. "Far too much."
She smiled, and lit another cigarette. The silence between them grew like a soft deciduous tree full of promise, trembling leaves and sunlight. Everything was sweetness and light in their oriental cellar.
"She spent a while at home last winter", he said, more sombre now. "That was great. It suited the children, it suited me. It even suited the apartment; we renovated the kitchen and even managed to keep it clean."
Sophia had leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. He could see the look in her eyes, and realized the effect his words had had.
"I mean", he said, swallowing more gin, "I don't mean women should be housewives and just stand by the stove and have babies, nothing like that. Of course women should have the same opportunities for education and careers as men, but there are loads of nice jobs in journalism. I don't see why she insists on writing about violence and death for a tabloid."
All of a sudden he could hear his mother's voice in his head, words she had never said but he knew she was thinking: Because that's what she is. A tabloid person who attracts trouble. You're too good for her, Thomas; you could have found a good woman.
"She's a good woman", he said out loud. "Intelligent, but not very intellectual."
Red Wolf was first published in Swedish in 2003, so you can read reviews of it by people who can read Swedish and other languages into which the novel has been translated. If you can't wait for my review, you can read one here at Nordic Bookblog.
[Note, I apologise to readers for the unavoidable inclusion of one J. P. in this post. Maybe he'll have acquired a necessary apostrophe by the time the book is published, but probably not based on the same quote on the publisher's website.]