Book Quote:

“Despite the fact that the secret Swedish military and political cooperation with the United States and the other Western powers was thirty years old, and that in all essentials it had ceased twenty years ago, it still had considerable political explosive force. Describing the Russian bear as more and more moth-eaten was one thing. It wasn’t true, however, for his paws had never been more powerful than now; the fact that certain small teddy bears in his own winter lair had started talking back and nosing longingly in a westerly direction as soon as the wind was right only made him even more irritable.”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn (SEP 15, 2010)

At the center of this Swedish espionage thriller is the death of an American journalist, John P. Krassner, circa 1988. Was it an accident, a suicide, or murder? The facts known at the opening is that first his body and then his boot falls from the 16th floor of a student dormitory. The boot struck and killed a Pomeranian named Charlie. Charlie’s owner, Vindel, is trying to recount the seconds between the body and the boot falling from the window.

After this wry and arresting opening, the reader is plunged into a dense and plodding world of Swedish politics. The characters and their careers are portrayed in all their Byzantine splendor, from the intricacies of the police and secret police (SePo) departments; to the police surveillance squad and covert operations; inside the Swedish Parliament; as well as the connections to WW II, the Cold War, and the U.S. central intelligence agency. There are many circuitous routes in the midst of this story, from the Russian communists to the beginnings of Sweden’s system of neutrality.

Lars Johansson is a solitary man, a “real policeman,” and the police superintendent on his way to becoming the head of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He is a perspicacious type who seems to see around corners and figure out how things stand. The case comes to his attention from his best friend, Detective Chief Inspector, Bo Jarnebring, (from the department’s surveillance squad). He received Krassner’s belongings, including his boots, which had a hollow heel and a slip of paper stating “an honorable cop, Lars Johansson,” complete with Johansson’s address and phone number and a key to a safety deposit box.

Additionally, there appears to be a suicide note typed on Krassner’s Panasonic and parts of a manuscript of a book documenting and revealing spy secrets and transcripts of the West. Lars had never heard of Krassner before, and this begins his investigation into the case.

While Johansson is in the U.S. for some FBI training seminars, he follows up with Krassner’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah Weissman, to seek out more information. This proves valuable and sets him on a trail of espionage leading back to WW II and the OSS. Krassner’s uncle was a spy and an intransigent Irish racist who passed on his traits and his personal effects to his nephew.

In the meantime, Erik Berg, the head of SePo, is apprised of the case. He brings in his best friend, Claes Waltin, who he doesn’t fully trust. Waltin is the Police Superintendent and head of external operations. He is also a psychopath and a sexual deviant who keeps his perversions under wraps and uses his shrewd talent to further his personal and career ambitions.

As story unfolds, a web is manifested that expands into several areas of the government, covering a wide range of people and bureaus, including the Ministry of Justice. The author, while keeping the reader with one eye blind, teases out the facts gradually and uncovers a tremendous trail of secrets that connect, interconnect, and even disconnect various departments and governments.

There is a huge cast of characters, made up primarily of assorted members of the police force. Moreover, there are other colorful people and events, such as an alcoholic professor, a “deep throat” type, female exploitation by Waltin, a heavy-lidded special advisor to the prime minister, and the fascinating childhoods of Waltin and Johansson. And there are enough hearty, heavy meals to whet the appetite and gain ten pounds!

I was intrigued by the elaborate story and the complexities of plot and character. The problem was that, after the droll opening, the narrative style becomes ponderous and almost crushes under its own weight. The pace was labored and read much like a text or chronicle. It was too often too dry, and would have been improved with more of the sly levity that characterized the opening pages. Instead, it was frequently fraught with detail and tedious profiling. But his acumen–what makes people tick–kept me wanting more.

Moreover, the book was highly engaging and entertaining when Persson portrayed certain incompetent members of the police force and their operations as comparable to Keystone Cops adventures. And, in the end, Persson doesn’t let the reader down. We eventually understand that Krassner is at the center of a Gordian Knot with many fibers.

After reading the author’s bio sketch, I understood his style better. Persson has chronicled the political and social development of modern Swedish society for more than three decades in his novels. He has served as an adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Justice and is Sweden’s most renowned psychological profiler. (Translated by Paul Norlen.)

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Pantheon (September 14, 2010)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia  page on Leif GW Persson

Wikipedia page in Swedish

EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More Swedish mystery/thriller:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Box 21 by Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom


  • Pig Party (1978)
  • The Profiteers (1979)
  • The Pillars of Society (1982)
  • Linda – As in The Linda Murder Case (2005)
  • He  Who Kills the Dragon (2008)
  • The Dying Detective (2010)

Welfare State Cases: (Trilogy about Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme)‘s assination:

September 15, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Sweden, Thriller/Spy/Caper, Translated, World Lit

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