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Review: The Chosen by Kristina Ohlsson

ChosenThe Chosen (Fredrika Bergman & Alex Recht #5)
Kristina Ohlsson
Simon & Schuster AUS
2015, 577p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The brand new thriller featuring Investigative Analyst Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht of the Stockholm police.

On a cold winter’s day, a pre-school teacher is shot to death in front of parents and children at the Jewish Congregation in Stockholm. Just a few hours later two Jewish boys go missing on their way to tennis practice. A heavy snowstorm hits Stockholm and the traces of the perpetrator are few and far between.

Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht are faced with one of their toughest challenges ever as they hunt for a killer that seems as merciless as he is effective. The leads in the investigation are many and diverse but in the end they all point to the same place: Israel. Someone or something called the Paper Boy keeps popping up in the police investigation. But who was he really? And could he possibly have resurfaced in Stockholm, now claiming new victims?

I really love this series. I chose the first book on a bit of a whim – European crime was popular and I hadn’t tried very many but was keen to. It wasn’t exactly what I expected but the story was utterly engrossing. Since then I’ve eagerly devoured each new installment as they are translated into English and published. This one arrived last year, when I had a lot going on and so I initially put it to one side, then I kind of forgot about it until last week when I was cleaning up my TBR shelf and found it. I immediately pulled it down to read and I think it was one of the best yet.

There has been a few changes – Peder no longer works for the police with Alex and Fredrika, however his appointment to a new position as head of security for a Jewish population in Sweden means that when two boys from within that community disappear and a preschool teacher is murdered by a sniper, he is thrown into contact with Alex and Fredrika again, who are investigating. All of them are glad to see each other, glad to be talking but all of them also realise that things are no longer the same. Alex and Fredrika are working together, gathering clues and trying to see whether or not these two crimes are linked and if so, why and how. Peder is on the outside, looking in – he can’t share in the information they discover, however he is able to give them information and share some of his theories.

Kids disappearing are so hard for me to read – anything that results in kids being treated horribly always sets me on edge. The situation that these two 10yo boys go through is awful and I really got sucked in to that, trying not to imagine too hard how I’d feel in that position. I found the attitudes of the parents concerned a bit unusual, and the reason for that began to unfold in a really interesting way. This story just kept growing, developing new facets and intricacies until it stretched all the way to Jerusalem and top secret type stuff. The author, Kristina Ohlsson is a former Counter-Terrorism Officer and it really shows. Everything about this book feels meticulously constructed, taking several events that look unrelated and slowly building evidence and information to create a compelling link. I love all of the ways that Alex and Fredrika investigate and piece things together. They’re very different and a lot of the time they kind of wander around doing their own things but they work so seamlessly together it’s almost like they’re two halves of a whole.

These books are always quite large – this one is close to 600 pages but I can honestly say that it never once felt like I was reading such a brick. I had a lot of trouble putting it down…..raced through probably the first 350p in one session and then finished the rest the next day. There’s something about the writing and the characters where it never feels like you’re in the middle of a huge book. The time seems to fly. There’s so much plot and detail and Ohlsson seamlessly blends the personal lives of the investigators into this as well. It’s never a huge part of the story but it’s always there, just ticking along in the background in small scenes that blend together to give you more information, more glimpses of their lives away from the murder and mayhem of their day jobs. With each book in the series I’ve come to know them more, their lives away from the job and how the job impacts on that part of them and their families. I actually kind of identify with Fredrika on a personal level as we have something in common, sort of and I find it refreshing to see a positive portrayal of a relationship such as hers.

I really loved this – the way in which it played out kept me riveted right to the end. I liked that you could put things together and sometimes be right and sometimes be wrong and have things kind of unfold at the same pace as the investigators so it never felt like it was too easy a mystery to figure out or that you were being left behind by great leaps of incomprehensible logic. I can’t wait for the next one.

9/10

Book #38 of 2016

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Review: Hostage – Kristina Ohlsson

HostageHostage (Fredrika Bergman & Alex Recht #4)
Kristina Ohlsson (Translated from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)
Simon & Schuster
2014, 482p
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.

9/10

Book #251 of 2014

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The Disappeared – Kristina Ohlsson

DisappearedThe Disappeared (Alex Recht #3)
Kristina Ohlsson (translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)
Simon & Schuster UK
2013, 566p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AU

Two years ago Alex Recht caught the case of a missing young woman. Despite his best efforts he was unable to find her and when the discovery comes in of a dismembered young woman’s body in a forest glade, he immediately knows that it’s Rebecca Trolle. Now they finally know what happened to that young woman who went missing, but now they have to find out the how, the why and the who.

As his team continues to excavate the site, they make a startling discovery. Buried further down, underneath where Rebecca was, is another body, this one male and one who has been there for a significantly longer period of time, some twenty or twenty-five years. Recht believes that the same killer is responsible for both bodies despite the time between the two and he begins to look at reasons that Rebecca was discovered so quickly whereas the other body has lay there for decades undiscovered until now.

Investigative Analyst Fredrika Bergman is assisting on the team investigating the murders and she is given the task of looking into Rebecca’s personal effects, seeing if there was something that was missed before, something that might give more clues. Rebecca was writing a dissertation on an infamous Swedish author when she was killed. Thea Aldrin wrote successful children’s books but was later outed as the author of two violent pornographic manuscripts and later jailed for murdering her ex-partner, stabbing him to death with a knife. Her teenage son disappeared prior to the murder and hasn’t been seen since – it was strongly suggested that Thea murdered him too. As Fredrika looks to discover what Rebecca might’ve found out, she is surprised to see the name of her own partner, Spencer Lagergren scribbled amidst Rebecca’s notes. Fredrika knows she should tell someone about this: Alex Recht probably. Or even confront Spencer himself. But troubled by her partner’s recent actions, she keeps it to herself, risking everything.

But Fredrika isn’t the only member of the team personally drawn into the case. And the way in which it plays out is going to have devastating consequences for the officer, both personally and professionally.

The Disappeared is the third novel in Swedish crime writer Kristina Ohlsson’s Alext Recht series, following Unwanted and Silenced. It revolves around Stockholm policeman Alex Recht, a veteran of over 30 or so years in the force who has put together a task force to help him investigate serious crimes. Alex recently lost his wife Lena and is still adjusting to life as a widower, throwing himself into his work. His dedication (which could be seen as obsession) does raise some flags with HR who are monitoring him closely to make sure that the pressure isn’t getting to him. Alex has chosen Invesigative Analyst Fredrika Bergman (not a career police officer, she’s on rotation) and younger detective Peder Rydh to make up the inner circle. After some bumps, the team has ironed out into a smooth machine and things are going well when the body of Rebecca Tolle is found, two years after she vanished.

With every installment, this series just gets better. This one contains not only a fabulous mystery for the reader to piece together, but also delves even more into the personal lives of Alex, Fredrika and Peder. All have had their problems throughout the two books preceding this one: Alex discovered his beloved wife was terminally ill, Fredrika had issues with her much-older partner Spencer that culminated in him finally leaving his wife for her and they also welcomed a daughter and Peder and his wife went through a separation and reconciliation with Peder seeing the error of his former ways. He and his wife have enjoyed a stronger connection and relationship of late with him being more considerate and her appreciating that and becoming more tolerant of his often invasive and difficult work hours. And all of that kind of makes what happens in this novel all the more heartbreaking.

The story is interspersed throughout with snippets of interviews – Recht and Bergman are being questioned by investigators, some sort of internal affairs officers on the events that led up to an ‘incident’ at the conclusion of the case. I found them to be the perfect accompaniment to the story of the investigation because they don’t give too much away. There are several incidents (such as Fredrika Bergman sitting on the fact that her lover’s name has come up in her investigation as well as Alex Recht’s personal relationship with someone connected to the case) that could be the catalyst for the investigation. This novel gives you plenty of time to form some ideas, reject them and then start to piece together everything that happened and the way in which it unfolds is so good. All of the books are lengthy and this is the longest yet but they never feel that way. The discoveries of the other bodies (yep plural) in the same grave as Rebecca Tolle’s throws up much more for the team to investigate as they struggle to identify the two older bodies and work out how they are all connected and who could’ve killed three people over a three decade period.

I love how this series is diving more and more into the personal lives of the three main members of the task force. We have always been given snippets but I feel as though this book really took that to another level and gave us a much better insight of the situation for Recht, Bergman and Rydh away from work. I could see the events unfolding that would conclude the novel about 100-150 pages out but that just made the experience all the more tense to read as it all came true. I can’t wait for the 4th novel to be translated into English so that I can see how it addresses the fallout.

9/10

Book #292 of 2013

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Silenced – Kristina Ohlsson

Silenced
Kristina Ohlsson (translated from Swedish by Sarah Death)
Simon & Schuster UK
2012, 468p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AU

Fifteen years ago, a young girl was brutally attacked near her parents Swedish country home. She was picking wildflowers while the rest of her family were out when she was viciously assaulted. The crime was never reported, justice was never served. But the victim never forgot and what happened that afternoon changed a family forever.

In the present day, a man has been killed in a hit and run. He wears no identification and it occurred at night on a dark road so at first it looks as though it could possibly have been an accident until the autopsy report determines that not only was the man hit but he was then also reversed over. They now have a murder investigation on their hands.

At the same time a priest and his wife are discovered shot dead in their apartment by friends who were expected for dinner. At first it looks like the priest has shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself. The priest suffered from depression, friends say. He had all of his life. That combined with several other family tragedies had pushed him over the edge. But some people give a conflicting report – the priest would never have done that. He may have suffered depression but he wouldn’t have allowed it to come to that. He was very active in the refugee community, he gave lectures and talks and he changed the way in which people thought. He had passion, he had a cause.

Alex Recht has both of these cases, seemingly unrelated, land across his desk. He delegates the first case, that of the hit and run to Analyst Frederika Bergman and Peder Rydh scores the priest and his wife with the help of a new officer on loan. Alex has not yet returned to full duties and still remains in charge, albeit mostly from behind his desk. As Peder and Frederika make their inquiries they discover that these two seemingly unrelated crimes are in fact, more inextricably linked than anyone could ever imagined. And they both go back to that vulnerable young girl, attacked all those years ago.

Silenced is the second novel in Kristina Ohlsson’s Alex Recht series. I read the first, Unwanted very recently and was very impressed. Often crime series are very much plot based with little development given to the characters and their personal lives but Ohlsson gives her characters personal development in spades. What I also like about this series is that the police characters aren’t entangled in each other’s personal lives. There are no liaisons going on outside of work, in fact they don’t even really see each other outside of work. But their lives are detailed for the reader, we become involved with them on many levels and learn about the complicated situations they find themselves in, the mistakes they make. I love that about this series, almost as much as I love sinking into the mystery of the book, trying to solve the crimes and putting together the pieces in my own mind. I found the last one easier to connect the dots (in fact I mentioned in my review that I made a connection between victims quicker than the police did) but this one was a bit different. I feel it was infinitely more complex.

The priest who is found dead with his wife is named Jakob and for a long time he has been a passionate advocate of the refugee. He has aided refugees in the past, he has traveled to give talks and sermons on the plight of these people who struggle so much in their native country that they leave everything behind (including often, their families) to come and make a new life elsewhere. Often they get to a new country only to be denied citizenship and turned away and of course, the diplomatic process is long so this leads to people seeking alternative ways to enter countries and build new lives there.

Often they get to a new country only to be denied citizenship and turned away and of course, the diplomatic process is long so this leads to people seeking alternative ways to enter countries and build new lives there. It’s a contentious issue, something that people seem to have strong feelings for and sometimes I think Australia forgets that it’s not the only country in the world where asylum seekers are landing. It’s just they’re getting into countries in Europe in different ways that are perhaps less obvious, and less risky, given they’re not paying to journey on vessels that often don’t even make it to land.

I had a lot of sympathy for the characters within this mystery – the people from Syria and the Middle East that were attempting to find a new life somewhere in Europe, so desperate that they were willing to take up offers of illegal ways to get there. I felt sympathy for the young girl so viciously attacked in a place that should’ve been safe for her and the way that it altered her life and her views growing up and admired the way she was able to feel as an adult. I also felt sorry for the characters within the police station, each of them going through something traumatic in this novel. They are so complex and well written that I feel like I actually know them, like I know their personalities and their problems. I really like the way Ohlsson has constructed the investigative team, shaping them and evolving their work relationships throughout the two volumes published in English so far. She has managed to really include so much backstory for each character and also continue to flesh out their current life situations. I think all 3 of the main police characters ended this book in very interesting situations in their personal lives and I can’t wait for the third book to come along to find how they are all dealing with the hand fate has dealt them.

I’m becoming a real convert to Scandinavian crime fiction – so far the books I’m reading are really well written, tightly constructed with fascinating criminal elements that perfectly balance intriguing characters. I see why there is such a large amount of them being translated into English and why readers are lapping them up.

9/10

Book #172 of 2012

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Unwanted – Kristina Ohlsson

Unwanted
Kristina Ohlsson (translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death)
Simon & Schuster UK
2011, 480p
Read from my local library

On a crowded train in Sweden, a young girl is abducted. Her mother had briefly stepped off the train at a stop to make a phone call and a series of events led to the train leaving the station without her back on board. Although the staff were aware of this and kept an eye on the girl, a disturbance in another carriage as the train pulled in to Stockholm meant that she was briefly unobserved and that was when she was taken.

Despite the crowds, there are no real witnesses and the police investigating the crime are at a bit of a loss. They discover that the girl’s mother and her husband, the young girl’s father, have recently separated and there are allegations of abuse but nothing has been proven. The police immediately focus on him, attempting to locate his whereabouts believing that if they can find him, they can find the young girl.

The investigation is turned on its head when the body of the young girl is dumped outside a hospital in Sweden’s north, the word UNWANTED written boldly across her forehead. Now the police are forced to search for another motive – from all their investigation although it is believed her father was abusive to her mother, there’s no evidence to suggest the young girl was being either abused or neglected and her mother is utterly devastated by her death.

Then the police get word that another child has gone missing, this time the young adopted baby of a couple. There seems to be absolutely no common denominator between the baby and the young girl from the train but there is no doubt that it is the same perpetrator. And now that the police have a timeline of sorts, for events, they know that the clock is ticking and if they are not fast, things will go exactly the same way as the first kidnapping.

Unwanted is the first novel in Swedish writer Kristina Ohlsson’s Alex Reht police procedural crime series. Inspector Alex Reht has been a police officer for about thirty-five years and he has a certain reputation among the ranks. He’s fabulous at his job, the opportunity to work with him as part of his team and coveted and younger detective Peder is very proud to have been chosen. The third member of their team is Investigation Analyst Frederika Bergman, an academic who applied to the force to further her experience and boost her resume. She doesn’t think she will stay with the force when her contract is up and Reht doesn’t really think that she has the intuition that he believes is necessary for the job. Frederika and Peder also clash, Peder has an active dislike for her and especially does not like when she has ideas, or is praised or receives attention from Alex Reht.

Scandinavian crime is big at the moment – Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbø, Camilla Läckberg, Jussi Adler-Olsen and more are all topping the best seller lists. I received the second novel in this series from the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster AU for review so I immediately grabbed this one from the library to get familiar with the main characters. Although this is a crime novel and is very much plot driven, it seems that just from this installment, the series is going to be a very character driven one too. At the open of the novel, Frederika is quite isolated from her colleagues, something that she perhaps even cultivates. She’s very intelligent, an academic with significant study behind her and Alex and Peder seem skeptical of her position within the force – there seem to be positions given to people with degrees rather than policing experience and it doesn’t sit well with the hardened cops who worked the uniformed beats in their early days. Alex also questions Frederika’s instincts, her ‘nose’ for good policing. It seems that this team is not really so much a team in the beginning – Alex is in charge. He has the experience, he has the ability. Peder is the young up and coming detective, determined to prove himself to Alex, whom he admires and respects, but he’s held down by problems at home and distractions at work. Frederika seems on the sidelines, on the outside looking in and part of the fun of this novel was watching the three of them come together to form a more cohesive unit, a trio of people working together rather than just 3 individuals who happen to be working on the same case.

I liked this book a lot but if it had one weakness it was that the connection between the kidnappings was quite honestly, easy to figure out and I feel that the police in charge were a bit slow to pick up on it. I know we’re privy to more as a reader as such, but I felt like the dots were there to be connected and the police just didn’t quite seem to be able to figure it out until it was pretty glaringly obvious. And then it seemed like it was really just one of them – but I did like the way in which they sat down towards the end, particularly Frederika and Peder, who had had some severe differences, and put what they had together and used each other’s information to piece everything together. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to the next book so that I can see where the character relationships and the work dynamics go from here.

8/10

Book #168 of 2012

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