For the last few months I’ve been wanting to branch out when it comes to my fiction reading. Specifically, I wanna read more Scandinavian crime/Nordic noir and spy thrillers. Imagine how intrigued I was when, at the public library when I came across a Swedish novel that looked to be a blend of both genres. Taking advantage of my good fortune I helped myself to a copy of Robert Karjel’s 2015 novel The Swede.
Swedish security police officer Ernst Grip has been ordered to semi-classified military base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. According to FBI agent Shauna Friedman, he’s there to interrogate a high value prisoner known only as “N” to determine if he’s a Swedish citizen. Grip is told almost nothing about the mysterious man, other than he’s a suspect in an Islamist terror attack on American soil. Showing obvious signs of extensive torture, N refuses to speak. Slowly however, Grip gets him to talk and when he finally does, starts at the beginning, on the beaches of Thailand after the disastrous 2004 tsunami. N and three other survivors, each from a different country and strangers to each other until just recently, are recruited by a shadowy deep-pocked American (think The Blacklist’s Raymond Reddington character without the charming amorality) to inflict bloody revenge upon the pastor of a Westboro Baptist Church-like cult for their hateful gloating in response to the tsunami. The more he tells Grip, the more he suspects the Americans aren’t telling him the whole story, including the reason he’s really there.
The Swede is a novel of firsts, starting with its author. Karjel is a Lt. Colonel in the Swedish Air Force and the first, and so far only Swedish helicopter pilot who has trained with the U.S. Marines. It’s also his first novel. Lastly, to the best of my knowledge it’s the first thriller to feature a male protagonist who’s bisexual. According to a piece Karjel penned for The Guardian, Ernst Grip was inspired by Hugh Swaney, a legendary American homicide detective Karjel interviewed just before he died of Aids. “He was the toughest man I’ve ever come across (including many in the special operations community I’ve met over the course of my military career).”
It took me a while to get into The Swede but once I did I enjoyed the ride, finding Karjel’s thriller smart, tense, full of surprises and satisfyingly entertaining.