Annika Bengtzon is the heroine of Liza Marklund’s book series; I’ve reviewed Red Wolf before this one, and that makes sense because Last Will goes in chronological order from there. Marklund seems to have a lot of fun writing using Annika as her main character, and that stems from the imperfections and flaws of the character that Marklund infuses within her. Last Will focuses on a few murders fueled by a Nobel prize ceremony held in Sweden, but the bulk of Marklund’s novel deals with Annika’s own insecurities (some of which come from Red Wolf); her role as a mother, as a wife, and as a full-time reporter all come into conflict, and the tiresome journey of dealing with all of these things at once put her at risk during the murder investigation as well.
Last Will is methodical, and it is broken down into days and months. Annika is an investigative reporter working on crimes, so she knows a lot about how the field works; she’s assigned to the Nobel Prize ceremony, and during her time there, she witnesses a murder of Caroline von Behring, a recent recipient. This pulls Annika into a web of murders which are perpetrated by a well-known killer named The Kitten, as well as some other attacks that are motivated by greed and scientific progress.
Last Will tackles some of the same problems as Red Wolf – Annika hasn’t changed dramatically from her last close encounter with death, but her lifestyle has. She’s moved into a new house, gained some money, and her husband has dropped his adultery with Sophia Grenborg. Still, Annika isn’t completely happy with her new life, and she has a difficult time forgetting Sophia’s terrible affair. And to make matters worse, since Annika witnessed the murder of von Behring, the police have imposed a disclosure ban on her writing, meaning that she cannot write about the investigation in the paper without risking a lawsuit.
It’s interesting to see the behind-the-scenes of newspapers, especially from Marklund, who has been through the rigmarole. However, those scenes tend to slow the proceedings of Last Will down a bit, and readers who don’t really enjoy learning about journalism will find that Marklund spends too much time on the technical bits, elongating the story more than it needs.
But Marklund does craft good characters, because they are never consistently good, evil, or in-between. Annika makes mistakes, and though she recognizes that her actions might cause problems, her emotions get in the way. The same is true of her husband, who juggles going home to his son (who has just fallen from a slide and who might have a concussion) with the importance of a meeting. Some of these ideas progress further than others, and sometimes the import of the situations miss their mark. But Marklund molds most of her characters into people that feel real, with real problems and questionable actions.
The main plot of Last Will is quite engaging, too and that helps carry the reader along even through the lulls. Marklund brings real history to this fictional tale to help with her story – the facts about Alfred Nobel are real, and she uses this to frame the rest of the murders. It’s a smart blend, and Marklund is able to make the connection once the killer comes forward.
Despite a few minor missteps, Liza Marklund hits the mark again with another Annika Bengtzon novel. This time, the setup of the plot has changed – Annika’s not always working as a reporter like she used to, and Last Will forces her to step into the role of mother a little more than she has before. But the tone of Marklund’s story is still here – cold, and dreary, with only small glimmers of light.