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HOSTAGE
by Kristina Ohlsson and Marlaine Delargy
Emily Bestler Books, November 2015
400 pages
$16.00
ISBN: 1476734038


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Kristina Ohlsson has published three police procedurals featuring academic consultant Fredrika Bergman and a team of Stockholm detectives led by Alex Recht. Her fourth novel is a departure, as she draws on her professional experience as a counter-terrorism officer for Europe's Organization for Security and Cooperation.

Hours after a spate of false-alarm bomb threats in Stockholm, a note is found on a jumbo jet carrying 400 passengers bound for New York. There's a bomb aboard, and the plane will be blown up if it lands without two demands being met. Sweden must reverse a decision to deport an Algerian asylum-seeker and the US must shut down Tennyson Cottage. Swedish officials aren't sure what Tennyson Cottage is, and once they find out that it's an American secret detention facility in Afghanistan, they can't see any connection between it and the man Säpo (Sweden's national security service) has just declared a threat to Sweden.

Fredrika Bergman, who has left the police and gone to work for the Justice department, is called in to help uncover whoever is behind the bomb threat along with Säpo's Eden Lundell, a flamboyant legendary agent, and Fredrika's former boss Alex Recht, fresh from dealing with four simultaneous bomb threats that were false alarms. They have only a matter of hours to determine whether there really is a bomb aboard the plane.

This is an admirably intelligent thriller that ticks down the hours as both Swedish and American authorities scramble to uncover who is behind the threat and what the best course of action may be. Though neither government will negotiate with terrorists, Fredrika has serious qualms about the case against asylum seeker Zakaria Khelifi. American officials refuse to share any information about their detention facility, making it difficult to see how the two demands are connected and what the motive is. Meanwhile, the pilot is stubbornly insisting that the only way to keep his passengers and crew safe is to do what the note instructs. He will fly the plane until the demands are met – or the fuel runs out.

Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht are certain that the solution is to be found in the connection between the secret American detention facility and their possibly innocent asylum seeker. Säpo's Eden Lundell battles the Americans' insistence on avoiding another terrorist attack, whatever the cost, while trying to figure out why the pilot is so intent on following the instructions in the note found on board. The airliner's crew is trying to keep the passengers from knowing too much. On both sides of the Atlantic, too many people in different agencies are withholding information from one another and time is running short.

Ohlsson uses this nail-biting premise to investigate the gray areas between security and freedom, between a society governed by democratic laws and one that demands safety at all cost. Published in Swedish in 2012, two years after a suicide bombing in Stockholm shook the nation, the novel succeeds both as a brisk thriller and as a timely exploration of European and American approaches to national security in an uncertain world.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, November 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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