A clearer picture of a fuzzy moral universe emerges in the middle of this thriller trilogy shot through with bad cops, good gangsters, and Scandinavian chill.
Following the conclusion of this series’ opening salvo, The Andalucian Friend (2012), gangster Hector Guzman is in a coma in Spain after being attacked by rivals while his lover, Sophie Brinkmann, tries to carry on with her son, Albert, in Stockholm. German, Russian, and South American gangsters are once again angling for control of Hector’s syndicate, and Sophie’s talks with them to buy time has her under suspicion as a traitor—a status that gets more complicated when Hector’s eyes flicker open again. Approximately two dozen characters of substance flow through this story, which largely turns on the kidnappings of Albert and of Lothar, a son of Hector’s. But despite all the globe-trotting and moving parts, which often bogged down his debut, Söderberg here works in tighter and cleaner prose. And this time he has a subplot that in some ways trumps the main story, following Tommy, a corrupt cop who tries to shut down an investigation of Hector by replacing go-getter detective Antonia with Miles, a stripper-addicted piece of deadwood. Tommy’s scheme backfires, which is no surprise. But Söderberg’s treatment of the backfiring, particularly Miles’ redemption, is marked by thoughtful characterization and the kind of black-hearted inside-out morality that’s defined the recent Scandinavian crime boom; Söderberg can make you cheer for a man urinating on a beaten corpse. Sophie remains a frustratingly passive character in this milieu—Söderberg has deliberately made her untouched by such machinations, and here, she’s mostly wringing her hands over Albert. But the pieces seem to be in place for her to fully claim the stage in Book 3.
A thriller with plenty of vectors but a better sense of direction than its predecessor.