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The Arts

Looking for trouble: Liza Marklund

BRATTLEBORO—“It’s not money that makes the world go around, it’s power,” said author Liza Marklund in a phone interview.

Swedish writer Marklund said digging into power was one reason she started writing crime fiction.

Humans will do almost anything to get, maintain, and abuse power: power of the limelight, power of the public eye, political power, the power of love, the media’s power.

According to her biography, Marklund worked as an investigative reporter for 10 years and a print and broadcast editor for five years. Even while working on novels, Marklund continues her journalism work by producing documentaries and writing articles. Some of her documentaries focus on Cambodian and Russian children with HIV/AIDS. She also produced a series about domestic violence called Take a Little Beating.

Marklund said that not enough questioning of the media takes place, even in her news-loving Sweden, which has the largest news readership in the world.

She confesses that as editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper, and then head of a broadcast news station, she liked the power and hated it when she was questioned.

“The media holds a mirror to society, but there’s a big room behind that mirror,” Marklund said. “I wanted to drag the reader behind that mirror.”

Thus, the love-her-or-hate-her investigative reporter Annika Bengtzon was born.

On a practical level, making Annika a kindergarden teacher wouldn’t help the novels, said Marklund.

“As a journalist, she can get into any trouble anywhere in the world,” she said.

And, Annika has — from drug lords, to deadly psychopaths, to her husband’s affair.

In Marklund’s new international crime thriller, Last Will, released this month, Annika attempts to unravel the murder of Caroline von Behring, chair of the Nobel Committee, that Annika witnesses while covering the glitzy Nobel Prize ceremony.

People don’t eye the Nobel for the $1.5 million dollar purse, said Marklund. They eye it for the prestige.

“And people have killed for a lot less,” she said.

The narrative threads and characters in Last Will start as disparate strands finally weaving into a complex rope: global pharmaceutical corporations, international terrorism, Alfred Nobel, and Annika’s even more complex personal life.

Marklund said she used multicolored Post-it notes to plot the book. The notes started in the upper left corner of her room and converged in the lower right corner.

“I love good reads,” she said. “But I also want to feel a bit smarter when I turn down the book.”

Marklund is fascinated with national hero Alfred Nobel, the man who invented dynamite, never married, never fathered children, and founded the Nobel Prize.

During her years as a journalist, Marklund knew friends in the press who would don ball gowns or suits and sneak into the Nobel awards ceremony held at Stockholm’s City Hall.

Marklund asked, what if someone brought a gun?

Marklund opened “Last Will” with an American assassin called “The Kitten” slipping past City Hall security with only a ball gown and high heels as proof of invitation.

“Last Will” also explores the issues of security, privacy, and civil liberties in the age of terrorism.

According to her website, the international best-selling author has written eight books featuring Annika. Marklund wanted her lead protagonist to be complex.

“Heroines in this genre are limited,” said Marklund. “They’re not really women.”

Marklund wanted Annika to be a woman who is a mother and wife, who is ambitious and aggressive, who cries too much and loves too much.

“I wanted her to be too much,” Marklund said.

Annika is a bit of an idealist in her creator’s eye. She believes in the media and journalism as a means to improve the world.

“She wants to make the world a better place,” said Marklund. “[She believes] in the truth and to get it out there.”

Still, Annika provokes people. She does not fit the chick-lit mold.

“Annika is hard-boiled. You like her, or you think she’s arrogant,” said Marklund.

Marklund laughs saying elderly men in Finland tend to hate Annika.

“Elderly men in general are not that tolerant [of Annika] and I’m so glad that they do [hate her],” said Marklund.

Marklund jokes that maybe the rest of us well-behaved people could use Annika to inspire us to behave a little badly.

In Marklund’s observation, crime fiction only takes root in safe societies. Unsafe societies only have to look out their windows to see violence and mayhem.

Sweden has remained relatively safe since 1809 “when Russia took Finland from us,” said Marklund, adding that the Swedish government takes care of its citizens from cradle to grave.

Killing, in this safe environment, represents the biggest abuse of power. It’s a form of playing God.

“This abuse set against a safe society makes [for] an interesting conflict,” she said.

To learn more about Marklund’s work visit: www.lizamarklund.com.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #147 (Wednesday, April 11, 2012).

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