By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Weird Swedish thriller

We spent Thanksgiving in Florida visiting one of my best friends, a Swede who has lived in the United States for almost a decade with his wife and two children. I brought no work along to the 80-plus degree weather, only two Swedish beach reading-style novels. I finished the first, one in a sort of chick-lit series about a woman journalist at a Swedish tabloid who solves mysteries. I am now (back in Boston) almost halfway through with the second: Sweden's best-selling book of 2006 (now in paperback -- like a stereotyped procurement person, I always wait until books come out in paper!), "Madame Terror" by Jan Guillou, possibly Sweden's most popular author. In this book, Guillou re-introduces the intelligence operative and killer Carl Hamilton. Guillous featured this character in ten books in the 1990s.

This is perhaps the weirdest thriller series ever produced in the Western world. Guillou is a former Maoist political activist, now part Maoist, part wine connoisseur, part hunting enthusiast. His character Carl Hamilton is a thinly fictionalized version of himself. In the earlier novels, having returned to Sweden from training as a Navy SEAL, Hamilton takes on the Italian Mafia, collaborates with the PLO to stop nuclear terrorists from smuggling material out of Russia, and, in the series' final novel, is promoted to head of the Swedish secret police. As such, he gets the names of immigrants spying on other immigrants from the Arab world and elsewhere and murders them in a statement against anti-foreign sentiment in Sweden. Hamilton exposes himself, makes an impassioned plea against racial hatred at his trial, is sentenced to prison and escapes -- apparently (the final novel isn't completely clear) to San Diego.

In the new novel, the (female) head of the Palestinian secret service locates Hamilton living under an assumed identity in San Diego and recruits him to participate in a daring cooperation between the Russian Navy and the PLO to destroy the Israeli Navy. It is clear that the reader is supposed to hope that this effort succeeds and that Israel is dealt a severe blow at the end.

I don't know yet how it ends.

If there are any Swedish readers of this blog who have read "Madame Terror," please don't blog here about the ending!

Posted by Steve Kelman on Nov 27, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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