Campbell’s delicious triple-dip spoof of Scandinavian spy fiction is the perfect antidote for intrigue-besotted readers weary of Wallander and done in by dreary, dragon-tattooed girls.
Part geekfest for those obsessed with high-tech submarines and the men who steer them, part espionage yarn, and almost wholly entertaining, Campbell’s three short novels span more than 20 years of Capt. Peterson Smith’s brilliant career in the Royal Swedish Navy. By book’s end, he’s literally out of this world. The handsome son of an American senator and a beautiful Swedish socialite, former U.S. Navy SEAL Smith tackles vicious Borje Borg of Swedish Crime, Inc. and his evil minions in the first novella. There’s advanced weaponry and all manner of aquatic crafts to thrill gearhead readers, plus shadowy Russians who don’t seem to know the Cold War is kaput. In the second book, things turn surreal as Smith battles Dr. Dimitriov—a power-mad (and hilarious) nemesis worthy of Austin Powers—in his underwater headquarters. In the final installment of the trilogy, all attempts at realism fly out the porthole as Smith—now Commodore Smith—confronts a wicked Galactic Wizardress who wants to enslave all mankind as love slaves; in its bizarre, sexed-up silliness, this section recalls Barbarella or certain 1950s, B-grade space-queen soaps. There’s a mission to Mars, some rebellious androids and a HAL-like supercomputer, not to mention a triumphant return to Earth by our hero. Smith is in like Derek Flint—that dashing mid-’60s superspy—but even amid all the danger, he has time to have dinner with his aging mother (a running gag), snuggle with his wife and teach his adorable children about “Hope” and the social contract theory. It’s all seriously silly, but it works since Campbell fearlessly creates such an expansive universe where—even untold leagues beneath the sea or lost in space a million light years from home—it’s always “blue skies ’n’ clear” in Peterson’s sunny mind. Good (and good humor) always prevails.
Enough to make even dolorous old Detective Beck—Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s iconoclastic monolith—laugh out loud.