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Thomas Kanger, Ockupanterna (Occupying Force)

Norstedts,  2005. ISBN: 9789113014357

Reviewed by Marlaine Delargy in SBR 2007:1

Thomas Kanger is an author and journalist who has already published a series of four detective novels; this is a free-standing thriller.

The novel tells the story of the sudden and unexpected occupation of Korsør in Denmark by a mysterious group of men who manage to enter an army tank storage base, steal ten Leopard tanks, and blow up the remaining forty. They then place the tanks in strategic positions around the town, effectively sealing it off from the rest of the country. A large hotel in the town centre is occupied and a number of hostages taken. The government is at a loss as to the best course of action; meanwhile, a helicopter is shot down by one of the tanks, killing the pilot and his passengers and underlining the terrorists’ lack of respect for human life. At the same time in Copenhagen, the police, led by Inspector Vincent Paulsen, are investigating the mysterious death of a man in the city centre. He has been involved in an incident involving explosives, and the police are left with a headless corpse whose fingers have also been blown off. Paulsen’s investigations take him across Europe to Bologna in Italy, and eventually to links with Israel. As the novel reaches its climax, it becomes clear that there is a connection between this case and events in Korsør.

The siege is brought to an end, with a sobering death toll: forty-nine hostages and other innocent bystanders, and more than seventy terrorists. But questions still remain – why did the men occupy the town in the first place, what did they want, and how did they achieve the occupation with such apparent ease? Just as it seems life can begin to get back to normal, the police discover that a ship is heading for Barsebäck nuclear power station, with the intention of blowing it up. Fortunately the Danish air force intercepts the ship, averting disaster at the last minute. Suspicious activity on the stock market leads to the conclusion that a major financial crime was behind everything.

The central theme of the novel is one of the main preoccupations of our modern society: terrorism and its causes and effects. Kanger is not attempting an in-depth analysis, but it is interesting to look at individuals and to see what has brought them to this point in their lives. Despite the dark subject matter, there is a sense of hope at the end of the novel.

Kanger writes with admirable clarity. His prose is lucid and accessible, at times reminiscent of a newspaper report, getting straight to the heart of events. The tone is never emotive, but effectively conveys what we have come to realize is typical of many terrorist attacks: that those involved have no interest in their victims whatsoever. They are merely a means to achieve an all-important end.

This is an excellent novel – fast-paced, exciting, and a definite page-turner. The tension is cleverly built up; just as the reader thinks things might be quietening down, another dramatic event takes place. The story-line is clear but far from simplistic, as the various threads are interwoven and drawn together; in fact, it’s tempting to go back and re-read the beginning once you have turned the last page, because so many clues and indicators were there.

It has been said that some of the characters are not given sufficient depth, and that each of the main characters could be regarded as worthy of their own novel, but in my view these critic-isms pale into insignificance against the strength of the plot itself. Although there is violence, the author achieves his effect through a menacing atmosphere rather than gruesome detail. Most of the terror-ists and all of those killed are given no individual traits whatsoever, underlining the insignificance of the victims as human beings and the shadowy nature of those who carry out attacks in today’s society.

The novel’s subject matter, plot, location, style, atmosphere and tension are superbly conveyed; I would recommend it to anyone.

Marlaine Delargy

Also by Thomas Kanger

  • Första stenen (The First Stone). Reviewed by Sarah Death in SBR 2001:2.

Other reviews by Marlaine Delargy

Other reviews in SBR 2007:1

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