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Jan Guillou, Fienden inom oss (The Enemy Within)

Pirat,  2007. ISBN: 9789185625697

Reviewed by Margaret Dahlström in SBR 2009:1

As someone who avoids police dramas in print and on screen, I approached Jan Guillou’s Fienden inom oss (The Enemy Within) with some hesitation. But although the novel has many elements of that genre, these function almost as a disguise and it does not play out in the ways usually expected of police dramas. This narrative does not begin with a crime which has to be solved.There is, rather, a solution in need of a crime. There are suspected terrorists who have not perpetrated any act of terror, and whose links to terrorist networks and their plans are tenuous at best, in most cases. Ewa Tanguy is transferred early in the novel from the fraud squad of the Swedish police to Säpo, the National Security Police, a branch which she herself distinguishes on several occasions from the ‘real police’. Here she is to head the team deployed to cross-examine the suspected terrorists. While Ewa herself can be considered the customary ‘good cop’ of the genre, there are some among her colleagues whose methods are not simply questionable but even illegal. More worrying to Ewa – and presumably to the author – is the extent to which the not-so-good cops can behave badly with the sanction of the law, the recent law drafted specifically for dealing with suspected terrorists, and removing many rights previously considered basic to everyone until and unless they are convicted of a crime. Guillou is critical of these measures in themselves and of the way they are put into practice by Säpo officers.The author has his own reason for a grudge against Säpo. In 1973 he and fellow-journalist Peter Bratt revealed the existence of a government agency which secretly gathered information on Swedish citizens at home and abroad, using illegal surveillance. The revelation caused a scandal in Sweden; Guillou and Bratt were both charged with espionage and served a prison sentence. In the novel, Guillou lends these experiences to his character Eric Ponti, a journalist who was imprisoned after having exposed certain government activities during the Palme years. Ponti’s past has left him with a distrust of Säpo’s operations. It is significant that the police officer Ewa and her husband Pierre are close personal friends of Ponti. Previously, Ponti has been able to use this connection to gain hints, leads and even leaks relating to Ewa’s work in the fraud squad.With her new position this is no longer possible: her work now involves the highest possible level of security and anything she should tell or even suggest to Ponti would in itself be a crime. This at times causes some tension among the three. The projected acts of terrorism that the first suspects are alleged to have been plotting involve an attack on Queen Silvia, and a bombing of the arena Globen, where the singer Carola was to perform before an audience of thousands in an event to be staged by her church, Livets Ord. As Ewa and her colleagues question the suspects, it becomes clear that in many cases the evidence against several of the supposedly key figures is extremely thin.Yet they are kept in the most basic remand conditions, in isolation and without visitors, in an attempt to make them break down and confess, until Ewa manages to get their situation relieved somewhat. Meanwhile a second group of alleged terrorists is arrested and charged. These figures are all journalists working for a Stockholm-based Kurdish newspaper. They are accused of having planned to reveal the identity of a member of the Kurdish community in Sweden who was an informer for Säpo, an act which would have endangered his life. Again in this case, the ways in which the legal processes are used are highly dubious: charges which should rightly have been treated under laws relating to freedom of expression and freedom of the press are built up to terrorist charges, and lack of evidence is covered up by claims that certain information cannot be made public for reasons of security. Ponti and other journalists investigate the investigations, uncovering irregularities and illegalities in the work of some of the police. But the prosecution finds ways to avoid, suppress or distort what the journalists find, and the cases proceed. Guillou’s major concern here is not the actions of the police officers involved, but the fact that they are acting according to the law as it now exists and on the interpretations of that law by their commanding officers. While the work is one of fiction, its firm basis in reality is clear to any reader whose country has introduced such laws to further the so-called war on terrorism. A press review quoted in the book itself describes the text as not a fiction but more of a warning cry: a view clearly supported by the interview with the author that follows the body of the text. Contrary to the conventional police drama, this novel raises more questions than it answers, not only about the guilt or otherwise of those eventually convicted, but also about the rights of such suspects both before and after their arrest, about laws designed to target particular groups in a community, and about the destruction of aspects of democracy by the very processes that are supposed to protect it.

Also by Jan Guillou

  • Brobyggarna (The Bridge Builders). Reviewed by Anna Paterson in SBR 2012:1.
  • Arvet efter Arn (Arns Heritage). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2002:1.
  • Riket vid vägens slut (The Kingdom at the End of the Road). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2000:2.
  • Tempelriddaren (The Knight Templar). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 1999:2.
  • Vägen till Jerusalem (The Path to Jerusalem). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 1999:1.

Other reviews by Margaret Dahlström

Other reviews in SBR 2009:1

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