Postcard Killers, by James Patterson and Liza Marklund

Postcard Killers is the result of an interesting collaborative Postcard Killers, by James Patterson and Liza Marklund effort between James Patterson, with a record number of New York Times bestsellers, and Liza Marklund, well established Swedish crime fiction writer. Nothing out of the ordinary for James Patterson – he collaborates extensively - but a daring move by Liza Marklund. Two quite different writing styles, two very different backgrounds.

Perhaps not so surprising, the Patterson style of thriller making won! Postcard Killers has short sentences in short paragraphs in short chapters. And it moves at a blistering pace, if possible even faster than the usual Patterson bestseller.

The story is also well plotted. It seems a young serial killing couple is traveling all over Europe. In each of the countries they visit, they kill a young couple. The murders are bloody and brutal, and after they have killed, the murderers take photos of the dead victims. The photos are sent as postcards to newspaper reporters. The killers want publicity and soon get it. In the media they are nicknamed the Postcard Killers.

Very little is known about them. They are extremely professional. No traces are left after their horrendous deeds. No DNA, no fingerprints, no pictures that make identification possible. Nothing. They kill, they leave, they send a postcard, they steal and sell valuables belonging to their victims and clean out their credit cards. Then they move on, to the next country, the next victims.

Now they have arrived in Sweden. A female Swedish newspaper reporter, Dessie Larsson, receives their postcard. That means someone in Stockholm is going to die. On the back it says:

“To be or not to be
In Stockholm,
That is the question
We’ll be in touch”

She gets in touch with the police. The same night an American cop, NYPD detective Jacob Kanon, knocks on her door. He has pursued the postcard killers all over Europe after they killed his daughter Kimmy in Rome, always one or several steps behind. He is desperate but extremely determined. Even if Hell freezes he will continue to pursue them until the bitter end.

Against her will, Dessie is drawn into the case. And reluctantly she is drawn towards the strange, single-minded detective from America as well. But what can she do? Why has she been singled out by the killers? What do they want, and what do they want from her?

As the stubborn detective and the resourceful reporter close in on the Postcard Killers, we follow them on a twisting and turning journey of action, brutality and obsession. Into a reality where art is lived and made in life and through death by the charming, attractive, calculating, cunning and raving mad serial killers.

Postcard Killers will, of course, be panned by a number of critics, as it provides a great opportunity for big-name bashing. And, for sure, it does have its weaknesses: Some elements of story are fairly implausible; the characters are a little stereotypical. But it is actually a great crime fiction novel; not the best I’ve ever read, but solid, fast-paced, with some smart twists and turns, and quite suspenseful. Even though the characters could have been more firmly drawn and feel a little distanced, I liked them. Postcard Killers is better than I had expected, and a book I enjoyed reading. Also, it is a book I do not hesitate to recommend.

(Review based on the Norwegian edition


Red Wolf, by Liza Marklund

Red Wolf is the fifth book in Swedish crime fiction writer Liza Marklund’s series featuring reporter Annika Bengtzon. It is set in the middle of a very cold spell during the Swedish winter. Annika is still recovering from the traumas suffered in The Bomber, and still struggles with anxiety.

Now she Red Wolf, Liza Marklundhas arranged a meeting with a journalist up in the northern Swedish town of Lulea about an old case of terrorism – a terrorist attack on a military airport named F21 by a group that called themselves The Beasts. However, when she arrives in Lulea to meet him, she is told that the journalist has been killed in a hit and run accident. It doesn’t take Annika long to find out that he has been brutally murdered.

Liza Marklund

Liza Marklund

Annika Bengtzon, an experienced crime reporter, suspects that the murder is linked to an attack against a nearby air base in the late sixties – the case she came up there to talk about. She makes a few small findings and starts to pursue them. And as more people are killed she uncovers evidence that links the killings: A mass-murderer is one the loose in Sweden. Seemingly one of the terrorists that were involved in the attack on F21 – a man who has since fled to France, and who is a known assassin – has now returned to Sweden and is behind the brutal murders. He was the leader of The Beasts and used to be code-named Dragon.

But who is Dragon? And who were the other members of the group – in particular Red Wolf? And why has Dragon returned to Sweden and started to kill people? While Annika investigates and increasingly finds herself drawn into a spiral of violence, she also – by accident – finds out that her husband is having an affair with a colleague. And when she tells her editor what she has found out, including evidence that suggests the case involves a member of the sitting Government, he tells her to stop investigating and drop the case.

Annika disregards the order from her boss. She is persistent and stubborn, and continues her investigation. Soon she finds that she has been betrayed by her editor for political gain, and is able to connect the dots and move in even closer to Dragon, the terrorist cell, and the well-hidden secrets of the past. She is determined to find the truth and expose the people involved in the atrocities. To achieve this, Annika is again forced to fight for her career, for her life against a deadly psychopath, and this time for her marriage as well.

Red Wold is a remarkable and very good crime fiction novel, with an excellent, very exciting plot. Liza Marklund’s writing is fast-paced, direct, and very good. She masterfully builds suspense and when she releases it, it is with a bang. The ending is excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book – Red Wolf is one of the best Scandinavian crime fiction books translated into English this year.

Praise:

"Pick up a Liza Marklund book, read it until dawn, wait until the stores open, buy another one." — James Patterson

"Liza Marklund is the next great Nordic export for fans of crime fiction to discover...Edge-of-your-seat suspense, sophisticated plotting, complex characterisation and unique locales." — Harlan Coben

Prime Time, by Liza Marklund

This is the fourth book written in Liza Marklund’s series Prime Time, by Liza Marklund about the Swedish journalist Annika Bengtzon. The action in the book, however, takes place between the two previously published books Paradise and The Bomber.

In Prime Time, translated by Ingrid Eng-Rundlow, Annika gets involved in the investigation of a Swedish media personality, perhaps the brightest star of them all, TV presenter Michelle Carlsson. Carlsson has been on a Midsummer Eve party with 12 other people, in a beautiful and remote manor house in Sweden, and is found shot to death in a mobile control room. Michelle Carlsson was shot after a late night of drinking, quarreling and sex.

It is quickly established that more or less all of the other twelve people present both had opportunity and motives for wanting Carlsson dead. Liza Marklund takes us into the world behind the cameras, into a world where very few people like one another, where there is lot of envy and backstabbing, where the competition for the top spot is extremely intense and everybody is involved in a more or less continuous fight for power, money and fame.

With the murder, things get more complicated for Annika Bengtzon. One of the suspects is a close friend. And the relationship to her partner Thomas gets worse – he accuses her of letting the family down. And, on top of all of that, her boss also involves her in a power struggle in the newspaper. So Annika is often angry, complaining and difficult in this book. Meanwhile there's a killer on the loose - and a tense drama about to unfold in the public eye. And in the center of it all is Annika, who in the end is the one who actually solves the mystery.

Prime Time is an interesting and good book, and times quite suspenseful. Even so, in my opinion it is the weakest of the books in the Annika Bengtzon series. However, it is still well worth reading, and you should, if possible, read the series in chronological sequence – that is, read Prime Time after Paradise and before The Bomber.

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