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LAST WILL
by Liza Marklund and Neil Smith, trans.
Atria, April 2012
404 pages
$25.00
ISBN: 1451606923


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Annika Bengtzon has gone through some harrowing adventures in her professional life as a journalist. Now she has been dispatched to cover a boring story: the Nobel Prize dinner banquet. Nevertheless, she ends up having her foot trodden on by a fleeing assassin who has just shot and killed Caroline von Behring, the chair of the Nobel Committee. Annika remembers the harrowing look in the woman's eyes as she died and the strange yellow color of her killer's eyes, a slight woman who concealed her gun in a dressy handbag and escaped on high heels. But Annika's first thought is "I must call the paper."

In the end she's prevented from reporting the story by a police gag order. That doesn't stop her from trying to figure out why Caroline von Behring was targeted by an assassin. Her search takes her inside the labs of the Karolinska Institute - and behind the scenes where recipients of the Nobel Prize are chosen and one rather dotty old biologist insists that the process is corrupt, that Nemesis will have her revenge.

Meanwhile her newspaper is going through a transformation, shifting to meet the online thirst for instantly-updated news, shedding desks and traditions. Her husband Thomas has taken a government job, writing controversial anti-terrorist legislation just as a ham-fisted police official allowed a foreign-born Muslim family man, suspected of involvement in the Nobel shooting, to be brutally assaulted and spirited away by CIA officials, leaving nothing but a political crisis behind.

The paper's coverage of this event is just one of many factors driving Annika and her husband Thomas apart. Her efforts to salvage their relationship by moving to a nice suburban house seem only to exacerbate their differences. While in some ways Marklund shines a welcome light on the difficulty professional women face when caring for children and a home while maintaining a demanding professional life, it's hard to understand why a smart woman would be so incapable of recognizing irreconcilable differences or why so many smart, strong women in the story are so susceptible to the charms of shallow men.

Throughout the novel, Alfred Nobel's sad story peeks through. In short chapters we learn about how made his fortune on armaments and the development of explosives that killed his brother. He had an unhappy relationship with a woman who borrowed money from him, but never returned his love. He shocked his family and society when, on his death, he left a will that directed his fortune be used to establish prizes for those whose work conferred the greatest benefits to mankind. Most surprisingly, he had a secret passion for drama and wrote a four-act tragedy that was finally performed in Stockholm in 2003. Its title is Nemesis and its subject was betrayal and revenge.

Marklund knows how to weave an exciting story out of unexpected materials, and she packs a fair amount of dynamite into the conclusion. It's only a shame that she didn't organize a divorce for Annika before the story started so we could be spared the scenes of a marriage falling apart.

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

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, May 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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