Blurb: In 1975, six young people stormed the West German embassy in Stockholm, taking the entire staff hostage. They demanded the immediate release of members of the Baader-Meinhof group being held as prisoners in West Germany, but twelve hours into the siege, the embassy was blown up, two hostages were dead, and many others were injured, including the captors. Thus begins Leif GW Persson’s Another Time, Another Life.
The story, based on real events linked to the still-unsolved assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, picks up in 1989, as the seemingly unrelated stabbing death of a civil servant is investigated by officers Bo Jarnebring and Anna Holt. Under the supervision of their cantankerous, prejudiced, and corrupt superior, Evert Bäckström, the case gets surreptitiously swept under the rug, and the victim is tied to a string of sex-related crimes, despite evidence to the contrary.
Another ten years pass before the confounding truth about the murder victim is unearthed. Just as Lars Martin Johansson, a friend of Jarnebring’s, begins his tenure as the head of the Swedish Security Police, he inherits two files from his predecessor, one of which is on the murder victim—who turns out to have been a collaborator in the 1975 embassy takeover. Revealed now are not only the identities of the other collaborators but also the identity of the murderer: an intelligent, capable lawyer a heartbeat away from the top position in Sweden’s Ministry of Defense. With masterfully interlaced plotlines pulled from the darkest corners of political power and corruption, Another Time, Another Life bristles with wit, insight, and intensity.
This is a difficult book to review. I’ve read a lot of Nordic crime fiction and most of it translates well, but this particular book was a lot more difficult for someone from a different society/culture to absorb. The author is a well-known Swedish criminologist, and this book interweaves actual events (the occupation and bombing of the West German embassy in Stockholm, the murder of Olof Palme) with a fictional murder. It is the investigation of this murder that ties everything together.
The author assumes a certain level of knowledge not only of the embassy siege and Palme’s murder, but of European politics during the Cold War and the effect on internal Swedish politics. This plays a crucial role in both the murder itself and in the investigation, so if you’ve no interest in politics, particularly Cold War politics, this likely isn’t a book that’s going to hold your interest.
A central theme of the book did resonate with me: the notion that we are different people at different times in our lives, and that the actions of the person I once was might be completely unthinkable for the person I am now—which leads to the moral/ethical question of should I now be held responsible for the actions of the person I used to be.
I appreciated the author’s humor, especially as regarded the detectives involved in the original murder investigation (for a number of reasons, this investigation lasts for some 25 years). While the plot was slow to advance, I didn’t find myself skimming or growing impatient while I read the book, although I do think it picked up about halfway through and got more and more interesting.
I’m giving the book a solid 3.5 stars, and I’ve rounded that up to 4 stars because I do have an interest and a background in Cold War politics.
My rating: 4 stars