Reviewed by Anna Holmwood in SBR 2017:2
Review Section: Crime
The authors (Roslund & Thunberg) are known by the pseudonym "Anton Svensson" in the UK and the US.
The world’s safest countries, yet the imaginative breeding ground for some of the most gruesome murders committed to page: the deep irony of the Nordic Noir phenomenon is by now a worn trope. In truth, writers, editors and agents in the region have become masters of the genre, and they look set to stay that way. But what about a Swedish thriller in which the crimes committed and the criminals responsible are not only essentially true to life, but described with a vividness and emotional power that could only come from someone with inside knowledge, someone who got to see, smell and feel some of the key events for themselves?
The first novel in the ‘Made in Sweden’ series made a splash even before it was published in Sweden. Björndansen (The Father) quickly sold in over thirty territories, and a Hollywood adaptation is in the works. While ostensibly another example of tightly-plotted Scandinavian crime fiction, this book was in fact based on the true story of the notorious Military Gang, a family of three brothers and their father who committed a series of bank robberies in Sweden in the early 1990s. Known for their ruthless tactics and audacious heists, including planting a bomb in Stockholm’s central train station in order to divert police attention, they were unlike anything the country had ever seen.
Published under the pseudonym Anton Svensson in the UK and US, the authors behind the series are as much part of the story as the books themselves. Anders Roslund was a journalist covering the unfolding bank robberies for Sweden’s main television channel. Stefan Thunberg was the fourth brother, the one who chose scriptwriting instead of crime and gained fame for his work on the international hit series Wallander, among other projects. Almost two decades after the Military Gang were imprisoned, Roslund and Thunberg began collaborating on what would become their first novel together. The writing process was difficult for Thunberg and it happened in fits and starts, but the form proved to be a revelation. The ability to ‘break reality apart and patch it back together’, Thunberg has reflected, was more useful than the years of therapy he underwent to deal with the scars of a violent childhood.
En bror att dö för, a standalone sequel, picks up where the last book left off. Leo Duvnjac, the eldest brother of the Military Gang, is finally being released after six years in prison. His brothers and father are already out and trying to create new lives for themselves. But Leo is determined to take one last chance, to commit one last perfect crime and buy real freedom in the process - and to get his revenge on the detective inspector who put him away. Luckily, he has found the perfect means to do so in fellow inmate Sam.
One year of careful planning will be set in motion on the very day Leo is released. The getaway will break all the rules. But the plan’s brilliance is also its weakness. Because when things go wrong, Detective John Broncks can be sure that there is only one person capable of concocting it. A body that’s not supposed to be there, a weapon left behind: these will open up an investigation that will draw in the very people Leo and John love.
The prose is taut and changes in narrative perspective and tempo make for an intricate psychological drama that crackles on every page. Indeed, it has more of the feel of an American hardboiled classic than the ice-cold narratives we now associate with the Nordic Noir wave. This book more than lives up to expectations. Highly recommended.