Tribute to Maxine Clarke

I have thought for some time about posting an appropriate tribute to dear Maxine.
I decided it would be nice to repost a review and mini essay that I produced while Maxine was still with us back on 9 November 2010.
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Red Wolf by Liza Marklund was published in Sweden as Den Roda Vargen in 2003, but we have had to wait till 2010 for this translation by Neil Smith, deputy editor of Swedish Book Review.
Crime journalist Annika Bengtzon, recovering from the traumas that she faced in The Bomber, is working on the story of a terrorist attack at the F21 base at Kallax, outside Lulea, which occurred in November 1969. A Draken fighter-plane exploded, and a young conscript died after being horrifically burned.
She travels north to find that Benny Ekland, the journalist she was due to meet, had been killed in a hit and run accident. She meets a young witness , Linus Gustafsson, who tells her that the accident was in fact cold blooded murder and decides to dig deeper. She learns about Ragnwald, [ragn-divine power, vald-ruler], a member of a left wing group, who disappeared decades earlier, and became a professional killer for ETA.
Her witness, Linus, is murdered, and then there are other victims whose families receive handwritten Maoist tracts in the post.
Has Ragnwald returned and why?
Annika painstakingly pieces together this story of misguided young left wing revolutionaries, while her obnoxious boss Anders Schyman schemes to block his business rivals, and her pathetic husband Thomas is unfaithful.
Red Wolf is an excitingly detailed, not to be missed, thriller in which Liza Marklund deals with among other things, many of the problems faced today by women.
Annika Bengtzon is a heroine trying to cope with a demanding job, even more demanding children, whom she adores, a philandering husband, and close friends with similar problems.
It is part of Annika’s charm that she is not perfect, and she can be devious and even hysterical at times. This makes her seem like a real person, and not some kind of fantasy figure.
Liza Marklund’s language when describing Sweden’s social problems is terse and concise:
This really was another country, or at least another town. Not Lulea, and not really Sweden. Annika let the car drift through the shanty town, astonished by its atmosphere.
The Estonian countryside, she thought. Polish suburbs.
 
Annika seemingly has very little time for those spoilt children from the social democratic rich countries, who chose to follow a violent path, however temporarily.
The ruler with divine power-not a bad alias. Did it actually mean anything, other than delusions of grandeur?
But then what was terrorism, if not that?
 
More than anything I enjoyed as someone who was a student during the turbulent 1960s the political wisdom and insight contained in the pages of Red Wolf, a lot of which is applicable today to a slightly different situation.
‘But surely they were communists as well?’
‘Oh yes ,’ Berit said, wiping her chin with the napkin. ‘But nothing upset the rebels more than those who almost thought like them.’
 
I do hope we get the remaining Annika Bengtzon books translated soon, and hope that the translation of Red Wolf was not a side effect of the Stieg Larsson phenomena, or the association with JP, but on its own merits.
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In September Maxine at Petrona cleverly analyzed the elements that defined Stieg Larsson’s three novels, and that could be used to liken other novelists to him.

 
Liza Marklund had already written five novels between 1999 and 2003 [The Bomber, Studio69, Paradise, Prime Time and Red Wolf] before the first Stieg Larsson was published, and it is interesting that many of those elements could apply to her books as well.
 
1] They have exciting plots with the heroine frequently in danger.
2] There is a central female character. Although Annika Bengtzon is not as “unusual” as Lisbeth Salander she is a character women can identify with, and men want to be with.
3] Annika Bengtzon is a campaigning journalist, as is Blomqvist.
4] In Larsson’s world the baddies are very bad and the goodies good. In Liza’s books Annika is a real person and far from perfect, while some of the baddies have perhaps made the wrong choices in life.
5] Each of the three Larsson books is different, TGWTDT [Tattoo] is a variation on the locked room mystery, TGWPWF [Fire] is a fugitive drama, and TGWKTHN [Hornets Nest] is a political spy thriller.
Marklund’s books are also variations on a theme with people in an isolated manor house in Prime Time [I have not read this one], and international criminal gangs and social service swindles in Paradise.
6] There are lots of detail in both Stieg Larsson’s, and Liza Marklund’s books.
We get details of how Annika gets her information in Sweden’s very open society, and of the machinations involved in running a newspaper.
7] There is a curiosity factor concerning the author.
Larsson because of his campaigning journalism and early death, Marklund because she is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and an attractive woman.
8] The books of both authors are set at an easy reading level, although I found Marklund’s books a lot easier to read.
9] The Larsson books are now successful films, and there will be Hollywood versions! Some of Marklund’s books have been filmed, and there are more in the pipeline.
10] Both authors books have won awards in other countries before their publication in English.
 
There are also differences between the books, and the characters in them, for instance Annika Bengtzon is married and heterosexual, while Lisabeth Salander is single and bisexual. But another element that links these books is that the male characters are bland, and usually weak, in comparison with the strong female leads.
Maxine has given us a template for deciding in future whether the blurbs “The Next Stieg Larsson” or “Reminiscent of Stieg Larsson’ are a valid comparison.  
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3 thoughts on “Tribute to Maxine Clarke

  1. Pingback: Jussi Alder-Olsen and More | Scandinavian Crime Fiction

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