Persson, Leif G W - 'Another Time, Another Life' (translated by Paul Norlen)
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE is the second in a trilogy of police procedurals by Leif Persson featuring detectives Jarnebring and Johansson. Persson has been writing for decades in Sweden, selling millions of books and winning several awards such as the Nordic Glass Key award, but he has only come to the English speaking world very recently. Persson's non-writing life appears equally stellar: he is described on the book jacket as "Scandinavia's most renowned criminologist and leading psychological profiler", advisor to the Swedish Ministry of Justice and has a professional role at the Swedish Police Board, a pedigree that promises a high degree of authenticity.
This book centres around two police cases, one real and one fictional, and the connections between them. The earlier event is the siege of the German Embassy in Stockholm by Baader-Meinhof terrorists in 1975, which culminated in the explosion of the embassy, and the death of embassy staff and death or capture of the German terrorist perpetrators. We see events partly through the relatively minor perspective of Jarnebring and Johansson, and partly through the other officers involved. The author casts a critical eye upon the behaviour of senior police officers in dealing with the embassy siege, depicting an initial complacency followed by a perfunctory follow-up after the end of the siege. The surviving terrorists were conveniently deported to Germany very quickly, with little attention paid to likely local Swedish help given to the Baader-Meinhof.
The second case is the (fictional) unsolved stabbing of Kjell Eriksson, a civil servant, in November 1989. Eriksson was a highly unlikeable individual, portrayed as sly, greedy and manipulative with few friends. The investigation is depicted in rather more detail by Persson: the protagonists in this section of the novel are detectives Holt and Jarnebring. They are a pair of decent, competent detectives, but are hampered hugely by their superior, the incompetent, lazy, corrupt Backstrom, and the equally incompetent forensic scientist Wiijnbladh. Backstrom is enormously homophobic, and is convinced that as the victim, Eriksson, had no interest in women and was houseproud that not only was he gay, but that the killing must have been a result of his sexuality. As there has been a series of recent killings of gay men in porn shops, Backstrom is convinced Eriksson's death must be connected. The kitchen knife used by the murderer soon becomes a samurai sword in Backstrom's feverish imagination, who insists on feeding misinformation to all and sundry, including the media. Holt and Johanssen are highly sceptical of Backstrom's obsessive theories, but don't manage to get very far with the case, and it is closed as unsolved.
Following a brief vignette, around the fall of the Berlin Wall, showing the manoeuvrings of Western intelligence agencies in acquiring information from the Stasi's files, the book then moves forward 11 years to the year 2000. The Germany Embassy siege case and Eriksson's killing come to life again, just before the Embassy case becomes time-barred, after a tip off via Swedish military intelligence to Sepo. Lars Martin Johanssen, lead investigator in the previous novel, BETWEEN SUMMER'S LONGING AND WINTER'S END, now comes to the fore. His career through the ranks has been little short of stratospheric, and now he is head of Sepo, in charge of a new investigation, with access to a lot of information concealed from Backstrom and his team, and as part of the secret service is subject to very few limits. He soon gathers information that sheds light on both strands of this novel, and the trajectory from youthful radical to member of the establishment (ie the difference that the "another time and another life" of the title can make).
This is a quite remarkable book on several levels. ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE succeeds as a meticulous police procedural, deftly combining multiple timelines and details of investigations into a coherent whole, written from the point of view of several police officers in a manner reminiscent of Ed McBain or Joseph Wambaugh. Once the reader gets used to the rather dry dispassionate style, and repetitive cliches used by some of the characters, Persson provides a compelling satire of police and political mores from the 70s to the present day. He casts a cynical forensic eye on the operation of the police and intelligence services. The author's psychological background shines through in the nitty gritty of the detail of the psychology of the individual officers and the interplay of office politics, making his main protagonists, Johansson, Jarnebring and Holt reasonably sympathetic, in contrast to the grotesqueness of the venal boor Backstrom. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the darker side of Swedish political and government life in the post-Palme era, or who simply fancies a meatier, skilfully crafted police procedural with political elements. I thoroughly look forward to reading other books by this writer.
Hardback: 416 pages (Mar. 2012) Publisher: Doubleday ISBN: 0385614195
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Laura Root, England
Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.