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Theodor Kallifatides, Den sjätte pasageraren (The Sixth Passenger)

Bonniers,  2002. ISBN: 9100578584

Reviewed by Peter Linton in SBR 2003:1

For English readers, a Swedish book by an author called Theodor Kallifatides is likely to be an eye-opener. Surely that should be Kallifatidesson or something with a more Scandinavian ring to it? The answer is simple. Mr Kallifatides emigrated from his native Greece to Sweden nearly 40 years ago. He has since published a large number of books, and is renowned for his crisp clear Swedish style. Now he is a grand old man of Swedish letters, and has been awarded the title of “Professor” by the Swedish Government for his services to Swedish literature. His latest book, The Sixth Passenger, is the second in what, for him, is a new genre: thrillers. A small passenger plane crashes into a lake just before landing at Stockholm, killing all the occupants. A police inspector called Kristina Vendel (also the heroine of Kallifatides’ first thriller) happens to be on the scene, and starts investigating. Five of the passengers are quickly identified as assorted well-known, rich and influential people, but the sixth is an unknown young boy, apparently of Asian origin. An autopsy reveals mysterious scars on the boy’s back. It turns out that the other five passengers, although apparently healthy, were all in urgent need of transplant operations. So the boy may be an organ donor who has already provided some organs and is now to contribute more, probably with fatal consequences to himself. The story gives Mr Kallifatides the opportunity to tell a fast-paced and sometimes gruesome detective yarn, and also to comment, from an immigrant’s point of view, on Sweden and Swedish society, as exemplified by the five identified passengers. For English people, raised on the notion of Sweden as a classless society, this provides an interesting insight into the reality as seen by an immigrant. In a recent talk, Mr Kallifatides spoke about the origins of this book. He described how, one summer’s day, he was lying on the grass in a Stockholm park when he saw a small passenger plane fly past. That set him speculating about the plane and its passengers. The character of the female police inspector was based partly on his own daughter and her contemporary problems, instead of the traditional grumpy middle-aged male detective. All in all, it is a skilful and original version of the thriller genre, dealing with contemporary hot topics.

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