Fiction – paperback; Pocket Books; 432 pages; 2006. Translated from the Swedish by Ingrid Eng-Rundlow.
One of my pet hates is the trite “sells” or subtitles that endorse book covers for no other reason than someone in a marketing department thinks they might hook a potential reader. Prime Time by Liza Marklund is a good case in point. In my opinion, adding the words “Thirteen people. One Murder. Twelve Suspects” underneath the title simply detracts from the book’s credibility rather than boosting it.
Which is a shame, because Prime Time is quite a good thriller that doesn’t need to be cheapened by marketing hype. The novel stars a gutsy heroine, the crime reporter Annika Bengtzon, who has appeared in three previous novels — The Bomber, Studio 69 and Paradise — none of which I have read. According to the author’s wikipedia entry the books haven’t been written in chronological order, so it probably doesn’t matter. As it was, I felt the book was a good, stand alone read but as someone who enjoys exploring an author’s back catalogue from the beginning there’s always the nagging feeling that I might have missed out on something…
The book opens with Annika preparing to go on a Midsummer’s Eve trip to visit her in-laws with her partner Thomas and their two children, Kalle, 3, and Ellen, 1. But at the very last moment, Annika is called away to work on a breaking story — the possible murder of a TV celebrity, Michelle Carlsson — and Thomas, angry and upset — “Are you serious? Are you really going to work?” — is left to cope with the children alone.
As Annika leaves to begin her shift on the newspaper Kvallspressen, she feels a mixture of guilt (for leaving her family behind) and relief (for not having to deal with the in-laws that prefer Thomas’s first wife).
Once at the scene of the crime — Yxtaholm Castle, where Carlsson was starring in a TV series called Summer Frolic at the Castle — Annika sets about trying to solve what appears to be a classic “who dunnit”. She discovers that Ms Carlsson had been shot in a mobile control room, her brains splattered all over the console and recording equipment, during a rowdy, drunken party celebrating the end of the series shoot. Twelve people involved in the recording of the show have been detained by police for questioning — and all of them have a motive for killing the star, including Annika’s best friend, Anne Snapphane, a broadcast journalist working on the program.
This is fairly standard fare, reminiscent of Agatha Christie, and it is Annika, rather than the police, who the reader follows as she investigates the crime for her newspaper. This investigation has Annika, a very resourceful journalist, always a couple of steps ahead of the authorities.
A secondary storyline involving newsroom politics — was the executive editor involved in some insider trading? — balances out the main narrative quite nicely and adds some extra journalistic flavour to the novel. As a journalist myself, I quite liked reading about Sweden’s newspaper ethics which appear to be considerably more robust than anything you’d find in the British press.
But I found the denouement didn’t quite live up to expectations. After such a big build up — more than 400 pages worth — I expected to discover a quite shocking revelation, but instead I was left thinking, so what?
Ultimately, Prime Time is a fast-paced mystery (rather than hardboiled noir) featuring a feisty, all-too human heroine. I especially liked the authentic newsroom setting and for that reason alone, I’ll probably explore the rest of the “Annika novels” in Marklund’s back catalogue. But if you like your crime fiction more on the police procedural side, this is probably not the book for you.