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Another Time, Another Life: The Story of a Crime

Overview

Stockholm, 1975: Six young people take the entire staff of the West German embassy hostage. The long siege ends with the deaths of two hostages and the wounding of several others. Jump to 1989: When a Swedish civil servant is murdered, the two leading detectives on the case find their investigation hastily shelved by a corrupt senior investigator. Ten years later: Lars Johansson, having just joined the Swedish Security Police, decides to tie up a few loose ends left behind by his predecessor: specifically, two ...

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Another Time, Another Life: The Story of a Crime (2)

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Overview

Stockholm, 1975: Six young people take the entire staff of the West German embassy hostage. The long siege ends with the deaths of two hostages and the wounding of several others. Jump to 1989: When a Swedish civil servant is murdered, the two leading detectives on the case find their investigation hastily shelved by a corrupt senior investigator. Ten years later: Lars Johansson, having just joined the Swedish Security Police, decides to tie up a few loose ends left behind by his predecessor: specifically, two files on Swedes who had allegedly collaborated on the 1975 takeover of the West German embassy, one of whom turned out to be the murder victim in 1989. Johansson reopens the investigation and follows the leads—right up to the doorstep of Sweden's newly minted minister of justice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 “May be just what fans of Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson are looking for.” 
Booklist 

“A dark, politically charged thriller . . . Red herrings—perhaps better, Red Brigades Herrings—ensue, as Persson unfolds a carefully plotted story . . . A practiced, Larsson-worthy procedural.”
Kirkus
 
“Exceptional . . . Persson writes with a sure hand and sharp insight. His detectives are human, interesting, and fallible . . . Another winner from Persson. If anything, it’s even better than the first book. Fans of Scandinavian crime fiction will eat it up.”
Library Journal
 
“While the documentary-style narrative is a bit of a departure from what Scandinavian crime fans have come to expect, it works quite well here (better than in Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End). In fact, this may be just what fans of Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson are looking for.”
Booklist (starred review)

“An astonishing novel. Once again, Persson has written a masterpiece of a crime novel. Spectacular and thrilling, arrogant and titillating, entertaining and well written.”
—Västerviks-Tidningen
 
“A whopper of a thriller.”
—Jyllands-Posten
 
“A masterly political thriller that plays in a league of its own.”
—Aftonbladet

From the Publisher
 “May be just what fans of Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson are looking for.” 
Booklist 

“A dark, politically charged thriller . . . Red herrings—perhaps better, Red Brigades Herrings—ensue, as Persson unfolds a carefully plotted story . . . A practiced, Larsson-worthy procedural.”
Kirkus
 
“Exceptional . . . Persson writes with a sure hand and sharp insight. His detectives are human, interesting, and fallible . . . Another winner from Persson. If anything, it’s even better than the first book. Fans of Scandinavian crime fiction will eat it up.”
Library Journal
 
“While the documentary-style narrative is a bit of a departure from what Scandinavian crime fans have come to expect, it works quite well here (better than in Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End). In fact, this may be just what fans of Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson are looking for.”
Booklist (starred review)

“An astonishing novel. Once again, Persson has written a masterpiece of a crime novel. Spectacular and thrilling, arrogant and titillating, entertaining and well written.”
—Västerviks-Tidningen
 
“A whopper of a thriller.”
—Jyllands-Posten
 
“A masterly political thriller that plays in a league of its own.”
—Aftonbladet

Publishers Weekly
The real-life 1975 siege of the West German embassy in Stockholm by six young terrorists drives Persson’s ambitious second installment in his crime trilogy focused on Swedish politics (after 2010’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End). In 1989, inspector Anna Holt and assistant detective Bo Jarnebring investigate a Swedish civil servant’s murder, but their corrupt boss thwarts their efforts. In 2000, Lars Johansson, newly appointed to the Swedish Security Police (aka SePo), reopens both cases and uncovers a link. The author’s straightforward journalistic approach makes the historical events seem remote and unapproachable, akin to a documentary-style police procedural. But the look at the fictional individual detectives and their fates through the years enriches the story. Good cops continue to be honest; some bad cops get their comeuppance, while other dishonest cops are promoted. In the end, politics trumps justice. Agent: Niclas Salomonsson, Salomonsson Agency. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The second novel in Persson's trilogy featuring Swedish cop Lars Johansson is as exceptional as his debut, Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End. This tangled tale of high crime and flexible morals begins with the 1975 occupation of the West German embassy in Stockholm by members of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang and culminates in a retrospective investigation 25 years later to determine who helped the terrorists. In the process, an unsolved 1989 murder is reexamined. Are the two events connected? Persson, a noted criminal profiler, writes with a sure hand and sharp insight. His detectives are human, interesting, and fallible. Some of them really want nothing more than to catch the bad guys, but others simply want to avoid doing work. The lead detective in the 1989 investigation is utterly incompetent and as unpleasant a homophobe as you will meet. But as for Johansson and his dogged and highly capable team of investigators—well, to know them is to approve of them. VERDICT Another winner from Persson. If anything, it's even better than the first book. Fans of Scandinavian crime fiction will eat it up. [20,000-copy first printing.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Dark, politically charged thriller from Swedish crime writer Persson (Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End, 2010), one of many literary heirs of Stieg Larsson. Anyone who was alive and kicking in 1975 is likely a much different person today, if in no other way than that the platform shoes and disco ball are now in storage. Certainly a person's politics might be different--and attitudes about others, too, especially if you are, say, a Norwegian put into contact with Germans within living memory of the Nazi occupation. Persson's newest starts off smack in the middle of a not uncommon scene in the Europe of 1975: a cadre of terrorists has seized the German embassy in Stockholm, demanding the release of prisoners, including members of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Things get ugly quickly; as the head of the homicide squad idly thinks, "The promised effects of the Stockholm syndrome, this good, consoling cigar, seemed more remote than ever." A few hours in, and hostages and terrorists die. Or did they? The operation was so carefully planned that, it stands to reason, someone well placed both inside and outside the embassy had to have been in on it. Red herrings--perhaps better, Red Brigades herrings--ensue, as Persson unfolds a carefully plotted story that jumps to 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, then to the near-present, crossing generations of investigators and government officials in the quest to find out who knew what--and who covered up what, and who killed whom. People change with the years--and they don't. Persson himself figures in the proceedings, in the sly way that Alfred Hitchcock figured in his films. And while there's humor, if mostly black--let "The one who had ended his life by his own hand and with the help of his service revolver to save society unnecessary nursing expenses and himself an undignified life" stand as a fairly typical example--Persson writes with unrelenting grimness, as if needing a strong dose of Mediterranean sunshine to cure the police-beat blues. It helps to know something about the time in which the story is set, and who Olof Palme was, to appreciate the book. Still, a practiced, Larsson-worthy procedural.
The Barnes & Noble Review

I just hope that Leif GW Persson's extraordinary novels based around the still-unsolved assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme don't founder on their titles in this country. Another Time, Another Life, the title of the second in the trilogy, just published here, is not quite so elusive as the first, Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End, but neither has made extolling the novels' greatness in conversations anything but a fumble-fraught trial. Still I persist, because the first two volumes have no peer among the host of Swedish crime novels that continue to sweep America. Though the books are connected and are peopled by many of the same characters, they can be read out of order, although the surprises they offer will be different.

Another Time, Another Life begins on April 24, 1975, with an actual event, the takeover of the West German Embassy in Stockholm by members of the Baader-Meinhof gang in an attempt to force the release of their leaders being held for trial in Germany. Police arrive at the scene and lay siege to the building, whereupon the occupiers shoot and kill first one and then another of the German members of the embassy staff. They promise to shoot more, one an hour, until their demands are met. The standoff is brought to a fiery end — here and in history — when one of the gang members accidently ignites the explosives they've brought with them. The remaining hostages escape without further harm, two of their captors are killed, and the rest, though injured, are quickly shipped back to Germany. Thank God.

What had happened was definitely not a cheerful story, but in the general misery the government could be happy that public opinion was united behind them. In addition, for once the goodwill was shared by the populace and the media. The man on the street was, to put it simply, furious. The whole thing was very un-Swedish, and at the same time it was typical for the Germans to foist their problems on their peaceful neighbors — something the Germans unfortunately had been in the habit of doing for far too long. In brief, you got the terrorism you deserved, and besides everyone who had been abroad in winter knew that the Germans always push ahead in the lift lines at the most popular ski resorts, despite the fact that these were in Austria and Switzerland.
Persson excels in evoking a mood with this sort of sardonic riff, in the present case capturing a very Swedish form of self-righteousness and hand- washing and elsewhere of bureaucratic self-aggrandizement and official temporizing. In the same vein, he records throughout the disparaging inner commentary of various members of the police and secret service as outwardly they mouth routine waffle. The salient fact about the Sweden of Persson's novels — darkly comic at times, sinister at others — is that a great deal goes on below the surface. Cover-ups abound, individually and nationally: past involvements are tucked away — or tick away — starting with roles played in the Second World War and the Cold War and moving on to the violent radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s.

In the case of the embassy affair, it is clear that the German invaders must have had Swedish accomplices, people who had housed and fed them at the very least. The secret police are handed a few leads, but, really, this incident in all its "un-Swedishness" and unexpectedness is not the sort of investigation they favor, "in contrast to activities you initiated and guided yourself in the form of surveillance, infiltration, and the organized gathering of information through telephone monitoring, other types of eavesdropping and radio surveillance." The increasing autonomy and self-defeating proactiveness of the security forces in Sweden is a theme that runs through these novels.

Now we zoom ahead to November 1989 and the discovery of a murdered man in a Stockholm apartment building. The month also marks the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of its power in the Eastern Bloc — and, more to the point where this story is concerned, to the opening of East Germany's secret-police files. There are many, Swedes among them, who know that the infamous records kept by the Stasi will reveal some of their own more regrettable activities. Could it be that the murder victim is among them? Not in the opinion of the detective inspector put in charge of the case, a loathsome creature called Bäckström, a glutton and a sot whose overwhelming foulness was such a treat in the first volume. It is clear to him, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the murder is the result of a homosexual imbroglio. He is assisted in his incompetence by another loser of our acquaintance, Wiijnbladh (first names are in short supply in these pages), whose chief goals in life are avoiding work and, more ambitiously, killing his wife. This worthless duo is the despair of a couple of other old friends from the first volume, Bo Jarnebring and Lars Johansson, whose lives we have followed back and forth in time.

Once this murder case has been thoroughly bungled, we move on to the year 2000, at which juncture a number of chickens come home to roost (and we have the great pleasure of learning what life has handed the many characters we have come to know). It is at this point, too, that Persson's true genius becomes evident, and that is his cunning in conflating his plot with history's, for seating fictional events in a force field created by powerful economic interests and global Realpolitik. Need I say that a CIA operative is involved? But his manipulations are only one strand in a splendidly convoluted denouement that, were it not fiction, would simply have to be true.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

Reviewer: Katherine A. Powers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307390219
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 634,576
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Leif GW Persson has chronicled the political and social development of modern Swedish society in his awardwinning novels for more than three decades. Persson has served as an adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Justice and is Sweden’s most renowned psychological profiler. He is a professor at Sweden’s National Police Board and is considered the country’s foremost expert on crime. He lives in Stockholm.

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Read an Excerpt

I
 
On Thursday the twenty-fourth of April 1975, death came during office hours, and oddly enough in both female and male form. Which is not to say the men weren’t still in the majority. Death was attractively and neatly dressed, and to start with behaved both courteously and urbanely. Nor was it by chance that the ambassador was at his place of employment, which was otherwise far from always the case. On the contrary, this was the result of careful planning, and key to the whole affair.
 
The embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Sweden is located on Djurgården in central Stockholm, and has been since the early 1960s. In the northeast corner of the area that goes by the name Diplomat City, with the Swedish Radio and TV building and the Norwegian embassy as its closest neighbors, it hardly gets finer than that as Stockholm addresses go. There is nothing remarkable, however, about the embassy building itself. An ordinary, dreary concrete box in the sixties’ functional style, three stories and just over twenty thousand square feet of office space with entry on the ground floor at the north end, it is far from the most prestigious foreign posting in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 
The weather was nothing to write home about that day when death came to call. It was a typical Swedish spring with biting winds, restless clouds under a pewter-colored sky, and only a vague promise of better, warmer times. For death these were ideal conditions. Best of all security at the embassy was almost nonexistent; it was a building that was easy to occupy and defend but difficult to storm. Best of all, a solitary, rather worn-out attendant manned the reception area where, if worse came to worst, the glass doors of the security passage could be forced manually. Granted, the weather conditions would not help the perpetrators when it was time to leave.
 
At some point between quarter past eleven and eleven-thirty in the morning things started to happen, and the fact that a more precise point in time could not be established was also owing to the poor security. Whatever. Within the course of a few minutes, six visitors arrived in three groups of two people each, young people between twenty and thirty, all German citizens of course, and they all wanted help with various matters.
 
In their homeland they were notorious. Their likenesses and descriptions were on thousands of wanted posters all across West Germany. Their faces were also to be found in airports, train and bus stations, banks, post offices, and basically any public area where there was vacant wall space available. Their images were even on file at the embassy in Stockholm, in a folder in a desk drawer in the reception area, however useful that might be. But when they actually showed up no one recognized them, and the names by which a few of them introduced themselves were different from their own.
 
First two young men arrived who wanted advice on an inheritance issue that concerned both Swedish and German jurisdictions, and it was clear, if for no other reason than the bulging briefcase one of them was lugging, that this was no simple matter. The guard in the reception area told the two men where they could find the official they needed and let them into the embassy.
 
Immediately after this came a young couple who wanted to renew their passports. A routine errand, one of the most common at the embassy. The young woman gave a friendly smile to the guard as he opened the door for her and her companion.
 
But then things became more complicated. Two young men showed up looking to acquire work permits. The guard explained that this was not an embassy matter but rather a question for the Swedish authorities. Instead of listening to him the two persisted. One of them even got a bit stubborn when the guard didn’t want to let them in. While they stood there arguing, one of the embassy employees, who was going out for lunch, appeared. As he exited, they both took the opportunity to slip in and immediately disappeared up the stairway to the upper floors, without taking any notice of the guard shouting at them to come back. Then everything happened very fast. The six congregated in the stairwell outside the consular department on the second floor, pulled on balaclavas, and took out pistols, submachine guns, and hand grenades. After that they cleared the offices of superfluous visitors and personnel; a few introductory rounds in the ceiling making the plaster spray was sufficient for the majority of the staff to flee head over heels out onto the street, and the twelve who remained behind were gathered together and herded into the library on the top floor, with military precision and without wasting time on any pleasantries whatsoever.
 
At eleven forty-seven the first alarm about “gunfire at the West German embassy” came to the Stockholm police command center, and this unleashed an all-out response. Uniformed police, detectives from the central detective squad, the homicide squad, and the secret police, in effect all personnel that could be called out were ordered there; blue lights, sirens, and screeching tires all headed for the West German embassy on Djurgården, and the alarm they are responding to is already clear enough. The West German embassy has been occupied by terrorists. They are armed and dangerous. All police are urged to observe the greatest possible caution.
 
First on the scene was a radio car from Östermalm precinct, and that it arrived at eleven forty-six according to the submitted report was not because the patrol commander was psychic; his watch was two minutes slow when he noted the time, and considering what happened later this was a minor error.
 
By twelve-thirty, after a little more than forty minutes, the police had already surrounded the embassy, secured the basement and lower floors inside the building, set up barricades in the area outside the embassy to hold back the quickly growing crowds of journalists and curiosity seekers, set up a temporary command center, and begun to organize their radio and telephone connections to police headquarters, the embassy, and the government offices. The head of the homicide squad who would be leading the effort was on the scene, and as far as he and his colleagues were concerned they were ready to get going.
 
The six people inside the embassy hadn’t been twiddling their thumbs either. They had led the twelve employees being held hostage, including the ambassador himself, from the library to the ambassador’s office in the southwest corner of the top floor of the building, and as far away from the entry as they could get. A few of the female employees had to help by filling wastebaskets with water and stopping up the sinks and toilets with paper towels to prevent an expected gas attack via the water pipes. Two of the terrorists primed blasting caps at strategic places on the top floor while the others guarded the hostages and the door toward the stairwell. And after all that they were ready at approximately the same time as their opponent.
 
The terrorists made the first move, opening with a simple, unambiguous demand. If the police did not immediately leave the embassy building, one of the hostages would be shot. The head of the homicide squad was not a man to get worked up unnecessarily, and his self-confidence was great, if not unlimited. Besides, he had been present at the drama on Norrmalmstorg a year and a half before, and there he had learned that if the culprits only had time to get to know their hostages, then the strangest feelings of camaraderie could arise between them, and the risk of violence would be greatly reduced. This interesting human mechanism had even been given a special name, “Stockholm syndrome,” and in the general psychological delirium no one gave any thought to the limited extent of its empirical basis.
 
Therefore the head of homicide thought he was on a solid behavioristic footing when he sent word that he had made note of the terrorists’ wishes and was willing to talk things over. But his adversaries had different, more violent ideas. After only a few minutes a volley of shots echoed from the top floor of the embassy. Then the door to the upper corridor opened and the German military attaché’s bloody, lifeless body was thrown out down the stairs, coming to rest on the halfway landing. That done, the terrorists again made contact.

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