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Kristina Ohlsson steps things up a notch or three with HOSTAGE, her fourth novel featuring Fredrika Bergman, a law enforcement investigator with a talent for interrogation. While the previous books in the series have focused primarily on crimes against the person, this latest one is more concerned with international matters and the potential for calamitous events, drawing upon Ohlsson’s experience as a political scientist. The result is one of her most intriguing works to date.

HOSTAGE reunites Swedish police superintendent Alex Recht with Bergman, who is working with Sweden’s Justice Department. The pair in turn find themselves working with Eden Lundell, a somewhat rough-edged member of the Swedish security service’s counterterrorism unit. The event that brings them together is a major one, taking place over a VERY long day in October 2011. The story actually begins on the previous day, when a person or persons unknown phones in threats of detonating bombs in four separate locations in inner-city Stockholm. It turns out that the threats are bogus, merely a prelude to what occurs the following day.

"HOSTAGE is a very complex work. Thanks to Ohlsson and the able translation of Marlaine Delargy, the reader never really feels lost (or at least never more so than the primary characters, who are busily hiding information from each other)."

A Boeing 747 is making what starts off as a routine non-stop flight from Stockholm to New York when a message is found in one of the plane’s restrooms. It is an anonymous demand that a terrorist named Zakaria Khelifi, currently jailed in Sweden and scheduled to be deported to his home country, be freed by the Swedish government and that a top-secret rendition site, known as Tennyson Cottage and operated by the United States, be closed. The message further states that if the plane lands before the demands are met, a bomb that is on board will be set off. The result is instant chaos.

One can hear the clock ticking loud and clear throughout HOSTAGE, and it is joined by others, not the least of which is the threat (based on questionable intelligence) that, when the plane enters the airspace of the United States, it will divert to another city and crash into a high-profile target. The respective governments of the US and Sweden agree that they will not negotiate with terrorists under any circumstances; the manner in which they propose to deal with the situation is markedly different. The US announces from the outset that it will refuse to let the plane enter and/or land in US territory and will shoot it down if it attempts to do so, believing that it is better to sacrifice the lives of a few hundred for several thousand. The Swedish government sees things differently.

Matters are complicated by the knowledge that Recht’s son is aboard the plane as a co-pilot. The narrative moves extremely quickly, alternating among the people on the ground in different countries and the folks on the plane, some of whom are a bit more than they appear to be. What makes it worse is that many people are lying. The CIA and Sweden are hesitant to reveal to each other everything they know (and don’t know), while Bergman, Lundell and the others on their team attempt to desperately locate and question those who may have some information about who set the plot in motion and how it can be stopped. Also, time (not to mention jet fuel) is running out.

The result is akin to a group of people in a dark room attempting to assemble a jigsaw puzzle when none of them knows exactly what the finished product is supposed to look like. Meanwhile, there is a bomb under the table. Maybe. As details are teased out, it develops that there is more to the story than originally thought. The question is whether or not the truth will be discovered, and in time to prevent a catastrophic loss of life.

HOSTAGE is a very complex work. Thanks to Ohlsson and the able translation of Marlaine Delargy, the reader never really feels lost (or at least never more so than the primary characters, who are busily hiding information from each other). As Ohlsson herself notes at the end of the book, there is more to the story to be resolved, which no doubt will be undertaken in future volumes of this fine series.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 13, 2015

by Kristina Ohlsson

  • Publication Date: November 10, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
  • ISBN-10: 1476734038
  • ISBN-13: 9781476734033