Saturday, February 13, 2016


A DEATH IN SWEDEN by Kevin Wignall (Thomas & Mercer, 2016)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A man saves a girl from a bus crash in Sweden, igniting a deadly chase across Europe as readers are treated to a full-throttle spy thriller with some extra layers in this highly enjoyable read. 

Don't be fooled by the title. Kevin Wignall hasn't joined others jumping aboard the Scandi-crimewave with his latest thriller. Nay, although a key death, and some of the action, takes place in Sweden, this exciting and well-crafted tale sits much, much nearer to Bourne than Bergen.

Dan Hendricks is a freelance fugitive hunter, hanging his shingle for foreign governments in a world where danger and death cast ever-present shadows. His current role doesn't require deeds quite as dark as his former employers, the CIA, but he retains an impressive quiver of skills as well as a sense of foreboding that his chosen line of work, and particularly his past, will catch up with him all too soon.

That's exactly what begins to happen, as old associates of Dan's start dying across Europe. At the same time his long-time contact offers him a lucrative job hunting down the true identity of Jacques Fillon, a man who'd been living a hermit-like life in northern Sweden, then died saving a young girl in a bus crash.

Dan finds himself teamed up, sort of, with the Swedish security service, who want to know what was going on in their patch. At the same time he needs to work out who's trying to kill him, and why, and whether there is anything he can do to delay or prevent the seemingly inevitable.

Wignall crafts a very fine thriller that has plenty of swirling intrigue, betrayals, and violence as it races smoothly along. There's a zest to his writing, a freshness when handling the expected 'spy novel' tropes. He's a very visual writer - it's easy to imagine this tale up on the big screen - and textures a cracking page-turner with some great characterisation. He also displays a fine touch for evoking various European settings, from rural Sweden to the bustling metropolises of the big cities. This is a high-octane spy thriller, with more.

Just a heads-up for some readers: A DEATH IN SWEDEN lives in the grey, violent areas of life that are hidden far away from what most people experience. It is full of characters who often aren't clearly bad or good, more anti-heroes on differing sides. Sides that seem to shift over time, for a variety of reasons. For me, that creates a whole lot of interest and intrigue, and provokes some philosophical musings, which I enjoy as a reader. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale - it sparks the mind and the adrenal glands. Even the heart, a little.

Overall, I'd have no hesitation in recommending A DEATH IN SWEDEN to anyone who enjoys fast-paced thriller fiction and international intrigue, or just people looking to settle down with a cracking good story.

Craig Sisterson is a features writer from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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