Written by Andreas Norman, translated by Ian Giles — Andreas Norman’s second novel is a hybrid – equal parts espionage thriller and domestic noir. Things get underway when Bente Jensen, head of Swedish Intelligence in Brussels, receives information which puts into question her country’s co-operation with MI6.
Jonathan Green, her British equivalent in Brussels, has been involved in an off-the-books operation in Syria where prisoners are subjected to hard interrogation techniques in a safe house maintained by MI6. Many prisoners die inside. The Swedish Intelligence service relies upon Britain for much of its Middle East knowledge, and now Bente is faced with a practical and moral dilemma: what to do with information, produced and shared by a senior partner, that is tainted by torture?
Bente also faces distractions at home. Her husband Fredrik is distant, her eldest Daniel wants more independence, and Rasmus is beginning to display difficulties with social behaviour. He lacks friends, attaches himself intensely to solitary interests and has an explosive temper. Bente cannot help finding herself wondering how much the barriers she has placed around herself because of her job have caused the tensions within her family.
Jonathan, on the other hand, while recognising his loyalty to the crown has come at a cost to his personal life, cares little about this. His wife Kate embarrasses him with her naïve political views and he’d much rather spend time with his lover Frances, the wife of his section head, Robert. The sacrifices he has made justify it, he feels.
The Silent War resides very much at the literary end of the crime fiction spectrum. There is an emphasis on character, personal relationships and internal conflicts. This is no better illustrated than in Jonathan’s relationship with Robert. The pair worked their way up the service together, and Jonathan is envious and resentful of Robert’s success, especially since he feels he is the more talented of the two. A spy, we learn, has to read others, yet Jonathan remains unaware of the real reasons for his affair with Frances, instead believing himself to be in love.
Jonathan is under pressure to retrieve the leaked information from Bente. The UK government has always been wary of this particular operation and there are those in Whitehall who would use this failure as an excuse to close it down. But Jonathan and Robert are in the process of negotiating the exchange of a high value prisoner with the Syrian rebels – a taxi driver with knowledge of the ISIS command structure – and need the safe house to complete the debrief.
After a sluggish start, which nearly had me putting the book down, The Silent War comes into its own when all of the conflicts are revealed. Bente has been compromised by Fredrik (I won’t reveal how), and the subsequent switch in their relationship from spouse to spy and her target adds drama and momentum to the story. A tense hostage scene towards the end of the book shows Norman can meet the demands of genre writing as well as he does the literary aspects.
Pacing is an issue in this book, it is rather aimless for the first third, and the lack of any sympathetic characters is a drag. Bente is the most relatable, but all are seriously flawed. Despite these minor difficulties, The Silent War is an engrossing, and occasionally thrilling, examination of minor and major betrayals that fans of Henning Mankell will certainly find enjoyable.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars