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. Not 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. (pg 3)
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 were was vacant wall space was 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. (pg. 4)
Swedish criminologist and author Lief GW Persson starts his novel Another Time, Another Life, with the 1975 siege at the German Embassy in Stockholm. Six members of the Red Army held a dozen plus embassy employees hostage hoping to exchange them for members of their cause in prison in West Germany. They wired the building with dynamite, killed two hostages, and then accidentally blew the building up. This real case serves as the basis for the book along with a fictional crime, the unsolved murder of a government employee in 1989. At first, the only thing tying these two cases together is the involvement in both of a policeman named Bo Jarnbring. What does a terrorist attack and the stabbing death of a civil servant – crimes taking place 14 years apart – have to do with each other besides a single policeman?
In the year 2000, a government audit is planned for SEPO (The Swedish Security Service). The director of the Security Police, Lars Martin Johansson, finds a discrepancy in one of the files and directs a team to look into the matter to tie up any loose ends. The file concerns the aftermath of the embassy siege and contains much more information then was available to the police at the time of the original investigation. This in turn leads to the 1989 case and the team finds itself re-investigating the murder.
This is a long novel (in three basic acts: 1975, 1989, and 2000), focused more on investigation details rather than action and I found myself wanting to know what happened in each of the acts. The author is obviously (to my eyes) knowledgeable about Swedish politics and the bureaucratic wrangling between different agencies, departments, and security personnel – something we are familiar with in this country as well. I got a little lost in the complex byplay between agencies but when the author took a brief detour to talk about the fall of East Germany and the problems with the files of STASI (East Germany’s Secret Police), I found it easy to follow and informative. I also had difficulty keeping the different characters straight at first but as I got further into the novel it became more clear. And I did have some minor difficulties with the writing which seems jerky at times and repetitive at others, however I was unsure if this was due to the author’s style or an issue of translation.
Persson doesn’t hold back any punches when it comes to creating his police characters some of who are very unpleasant people. Many of the police characters do not have much use for their fellow officers and there is much talk of bungling incompetence. There was some slight repetition on this point that I found a little irksome and I wondered if there were any competent policemen in Sweden at all. However, the female detectives portrayed in the book – one of which appears in two segments of the book more than made up for the bunglers. I wish the author had expanded the roles of these women who were inventive and smart.
One of my biggest complaints of the novel is I had a hard time differentiating who the protagonist was. I was told by the book jacket that it was Lars Martin Johansson who was Bo’s partner (and best friend) in 1975 and his boss in 2000. However, he plays such a minor role until the last section and even there many of the breaks come from the team rather than Lars. I have since found out that the novel is second of a planned trilogy and it may be that Lars plays a more prominent role in the first book, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End. If you are interested in reading Another Time, Another Life I would recommend you start with the first in the trilogy. While Another Life, Another Time does stand alone by itself, some of the confusing details might be better explained by reading the books in order.