Tuesday, March 08, 2011

book review: The Terrorists by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

"'The motorcade is now passing Haga southern gates,' said the radio announcer. 'The streets are absolutely seething with demonstrators. They're shouting slogans in chorus. It's even worse at Haga Courthouse.'
Heydt looked at the television screens to see for himself. The slogans could be heard less well on television and the reporter did not bother to mention them. Instead, he said, 'The Senator's bullet-proof, custom-built car is now passing Stallmastaregarden, where the government is giving a gala banquet tonight.'
The moment was very close.
'At this moment the car with the Senator and the Prime Minister is leaving Solna and crossing the Stockholm city boundary.'
Very, very close."

The idea of knowing the face and final movements of terrorists is something that has become all too common in the last few years as the video taped final statements are broadcast after the suicide bombers wreak their terrible havoc.

But back in the 1970s terrorism was a faceless secret activity where people planted bombs with out the intention of either taking their own lives or getting caught. It is this type of terrorist, ruthlessly efficient but a career bomber and political assassin, that the Swedish police find themselves trying to defend a visiting US senator against.

Weaving through this story is not just a couple of sub plots, plenty of detail on character and the personal lives of the main protagonists but also plenty of social context. Sjowall and Wahloo don't just write books that contain policemen solving crimes they put those crime fighting efforts in a context that is not always a good one. The Vietnam war is in its final stages and the police have become an armed force of repression against not those that protest against the war but against too many normal citizens.

In this environment Martin Beck has to coordinate attempts to stop the assassination of the deeply unpopular US senator. There are moments in the cat and mouse game with the terrorists where the book is so visual you turn the pages as if watching a film.

The police know the identity of one of the terrorists Richard Heydt and in the end it becomes a personal battle between him and Gunvald Larsson who sets his sights on bringing him to justice.

The sense of failure is always in the air and there are numerous points where your faith in Beck, well established over nine previous books, is seriously tested.

But if there is one thing the couple know how to do it is to deliver a story that kicks into a higher gear as it reaches the final third and the pace is evident again here.

Putting this alongside all the other Beck novels it has to be considered one of the better ones. But you could never come to this without knowing about the past laid down in the previous books. Neither is it possible to get top the end of this 10 book series without a deep appreciation and respect for the husband and wife team that wrote them. Reading them has been one of my best reading discoveries of recent years.

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