Hostage (Fredrika Bergman & Alex Recht #4)
Kristina Ohlsson (Translated from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)
Simon & Schuster
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS
A flight from Sweden takes off, heading to New York. Shortly afterward one of the crew finds a note in the toilets saying that there is a bomb on board. The pilot has to stay in the air. Any attempt to land the plane before the two demands of the hijackers are met will result in it being blown up. The note demands two things – one from the Swedish government and one from the American government.
The US and Swedish governments have a clock counting down. The plane only has a certain amount of fuel – the time of its journey to New York plus five hours additional fuel to account for possibly being delayed on landing due to storms. But neither government negotiates with terrorists. To do so would set a dangerous precedent. When the captain refuses a suggestion to attempt an early emergency landing before the word leaks out to the press, it suggests that he may be a part of this plot.
Fredrika Bergman, now working with the Justice Department is familiar with one of the things the hijacker has demanded. They want the Swedish government to overturn a revoking of a permanent residency for an Algerian man and Fredrika was the one who went through the paperwork and helped confirm the decision. Partnered once again with Police Superintendent Alex Recht, who is working on the hijacking, Fredrika begins to reexamine the paperwork, wondering if they haven’t made a mistake.
As the hours pass, the US becomes more and more hostile, the team on the ground are running out of answers and the plane is running out of fuel.
I’ve read all the previous books in this series and enjoyed them so I must admit, I requested this to read without even bothering to check the blurb. I wanted to find out what was happening with Alex and Fredrika after the events in the previous novel. However when I received the book, I immediately couldn’t wait to start it because it’s weirdly relevant even though it was written over two years ago (translating seems a slow process at times). A plane is hijacked in a non-violent, non-threatening manner in that no one storms to cockpit, no one shoots anyone and forcibly takes control. Instead there is a simple note found by one of the crew in the first class bathroom that states there is a bomb on board and unless the plane continues on its journey to America and unless their two demands are met, it will be blown up. There is to be no attempt at an emergency landing anywhere else.
Recently there have been several very interesting (and traumatic) events in the news concerning airplanes. Firstly, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared without a trace during a routine flight and no one knows where it is or what happened to it some 9 months later. There are thoughts it’s languishing at the bottom of the Indian Ocean somewhere far off the coast of Western Australia but no trace of it has ever been seen. Then Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, supposedly by pro-Russian separatists who possibly mistook it to be a Ukrainian military plane. Before either of those events happened, I think I would’ve been a bit more skeptical about the events within this book. But somehow the timing of this publication has made it feel not so outlandish, really.
The difficulty is that most governments, Australia among them, do not negotiate with terrorists. And given one of the governments that needs to do something is the United States, the chances of the hijackers demands actually happening at first seem to be less than zero. The US also complicates matters in the novel because in a post 9/11 world they can’t afford to let anything like that happen ever again. Not only will they not co-operate but they also will not grant the plane access to American airspace. The pilot is desperate to get to America, in fact that is his one goal and that’s looking impossible when the American authorities state without reservation that if it crosses into their airspace, they will be forced to deal with it in a very permanent manner.
And the timing is also a challenge. The plane is undergoing about a 9+ hour flight and has 5 additional hours of fuel giving it almost 15 hours of flight time. In terms of bureaucratic process, even if the governments wanted to co-operate it gives them so little time to accomplish anything. They’re trying to gather information, trying to find out who is behind this and what the role of the pilot is and whether or not there really is a bomb on board or if it’s all just a bluff. And do they take that risk? If they instruct to attempt an emergency landing and the plane does blow up, how is that going to come across politically? The alternative is to do nothing and let the plane run out of fuel – it won’t explode but the end result will be the same. It’s an incredible dilemma for those investigating, especially Alex Recht who turns out to have a very personal connection with the plane.
As I mentioned, I’ve really liked all of the previous novels in this series but I think this one is my favourite so far. It introduces a really intriguing new character in Eden Lundell, an agent with the Swedish Security Service. Eden has a really interesting past, some of which was just coming to light as this book was closing so I’m pretty sure she’ll be appearing again. I found her fascinating – both Fredrika and Eden are career women. They have important jobs that require utter dedication and long hours. Both also have young children and partners who must do their share at home, sometimes more than their share depending on what is happening and the severity of an investigation. In this investigation, it’s given the highest priority as it involves national security and the decisions they make could either save and destroy hundreds of lives. At times Eden is an unsympathetic and unlikable character – her inner thoughts on her family are not always in keeping with what you’d expect from a mother and that’s why I found her interesting.
Things have changed for Fredrika and Alex too. This book picks up a little while after the ending of the previous – Fredrika has spent time in New York where her partner Spencer had a posting. Alex is still grieving but is also experiencing the pleasure of a new relationship and having companionship. He has lost his core team and even though he wasn’t entirely happy with Fredrika when she arrived to work with him, he misses her and her investigative skills greatly now that she’s gone. He’d be very happy to have her back and I’m interested to see where Fredrika goes next. She seems a bit dissatisfied with her professional life, moving from post to post, pushing more papers and craving something else. And yet she gets offered a job from the Swedish Security Service in this book and turns it down. I want to know what she wants to do, what would satisfy her professionally.
Hostage builds the suspense very well, as the hours and minutes tick down to the plane’s impending doom. I ended up reading long into the night to find out what happened and how it was all going to end. There’s also enough left open at the conclusion of this book to suggest we may see some of these people again in the future which I think would be fantastic.
Book #251 of 2014