Written by Jan Wallentin – Back in October 2010, Swedish journalist turned author Jan Wallentin’s debut novel, Strindbergs stjärna, was released in his native Sweden. Fast forward nearly two years, and the rights to this fast-paced thriller have been picked up by publishing houses in 12 other countries including the UK’s very own Corvus.
With Wallentin’s journalistic background and a female protagonist who will remind some readers of a certain Lisbeth Salander, similarities will undoubtedly be drawn with Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. And as you read it there’s a touch of the Dan Brown about it as well. However Strindberg’s Star is a very much its own book.
When diver Erik Hall descends into the depths of an old, flooded mine shaft the last thing he expects to find is a dead body. Far from being a recent death, it gradually becomes clear that the man has been in his underwater grave for quite some time. Even more interesting is the ancient Ankh clasped in his perfectly preserved fingers. Unfortunately for Hall, finding the body costs him his own life.
The main focus of this book isn’t Hall’s death. He’s very much collateral damage as murder victims go. Wallentin’s story concentrates on the Ankh and its links to events in the past. Enter the real male protagonist, Don Titelman, a university researcher with an interest in mythology and the Nazis, and an unhealthy addiction to prescription drugs. Hall called Titelman, whom he’d met on a TV chat show, to show him his find. Before Titelman can reach Hall, a mysterious young woman with psychic powers, who just happens to ride a motorbike, gets to him first. Titelman becomes the prime suspect in Hall’s murder. Is our girl a heroine or a villainess? Why is she so keen to get her hands on the Ankh?
It turns out that the mystery goes back to 1897 when the Ankh was first discovered, along with an ornately carved star, in a tomb out in the Taklamakan desert. Move forward two years and university physicist Nils Strindberg embarks on a balloon journey using the objects as navigational devices which proves to be fatal for all involved. Titelman is forced into a journey that takes him to the battlefields of WWI, and back to the Arctic where Strindberg and his companions met their end for a final showdown.
The story that Wallentin has to tell is quite dark and unsettling, yet thoroughly compelling. At its core is the gradual rise of Nazism and the fact that from as early as the end of the 19th century, certain quarters of the German hierarchy were looking to establish themselves as godlike. The action is fast moving and the sense of danger never abates for a minute. With Norse mythology, the Nazis, psychic powers and mystery mixed together, this is a psychological thriller plenty of substance and a writing style to match.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars