Email this review


A flawed but charmingly offbeat first thriller about a mild-mannered Danish househusband whose famous wife is killed by Basque terrorists. Narrator Poul Jensen is a gentle, 34-year-old Dane who has a part-time job at the Ministry of Social Affairs, but whose true calling is staying home taking care of the kids while his charismatically beautiful wife Charlotte, a renowned television newshound, roams the world sniffing out scoops--and having affairs, which she's not loath to tell Poul about. Jensen's carefully constructed domestic tranquility is thus a front for bitterness, so when two dour cops knock on his door one evening with the news that Charlotte has perished in a bar bombing in San Sebastian, Spain--presumably the innocent victim of Basque terrorism--he meets the shock with a Gregor Samsa-like lack of affect: ""I felt sad, but did I feel any grief?. The greatest sorrow on earth is losing the one you love--or something like that."" Still, ever dutiful, he flies to Spain to claim his wife's body, and catches a ride north to San Sebastian with Claes Hylander, a gregarious, hard-drinking Swedish journalist he meets on the plane. Claes turns out to be an amiable companion (although he drunkenly confesses to Poul that he was one of Charlotte's lovers, then tries to make him feel better by claiming ""it wasn't anything special""), and the two of them stagger into town just in time for a raucous pre-Lenten festival. For the next day or so, Jensen wanders through the carnival in a semialcoholic daze while waiting for Spanish red tape to untangle so he can drive Charlotte's body back to Madrid in the hearse being specially provided for him. Finally, in an unfortunately dense, too-sudden crosshatch of double-dealing and contrived intrigue, he learns he's only a pawn in the game of ambitious Police Commissioner Jaime Monterales--Charlotte had actually died earlier in an innocent car accident and Monterales had planted her body in the bar, knowing the Basques would make use of the hearse provided to Jensen to attack King Juan Carlos's motorcade, which just coincidentally happens to be heading to San Sebastian. In any event, the plot is foiled, Hylander-who's known about it all along--gets the story, and Poul trudges back to Denmark, sadder but possibly no wiser. An atmospheric debut, with a good, quirky protagonist, marred only by the traffic jam of an ending.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Fjord--dist. by Academy Chicago