Book review: Hostage by Kristina Ohlsson

Hostage by Kristina Ohlsson
Hostage by Kristina Ohlsson

The fight against international terrorism, which has now spread to almost every corner of our planet, continues to dominate the news headlines.

The deeply complex human, moral and political issues involved in pursuing those who carry out these acts of terrorism are tackled head-on in a blistering thriller from Swedish superstar author Kristina Ohlsson.

A political scientist, former Swedish security service worker and, until recently, a counter-terrorism officer at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Ohlsson has used her knowledge, experience and exciting writing skills to become one of Scandinavia’s most popular crime queens.

Hostage, which features a nail-biting battle to stop hijackers blowing up a plane with 400 passengers on board, stars Ohlsson’s dynamic fictional duo, Investigative Analyst Fredrika Bergman and Superintendent Alex Recht of the Stockholm police.

Fans of Ohlsson will already have met this mismatched pair of investigators but a new and dangerous case proves one of their toughest yet as the security services become trapped in a moral maze of social and political problems whilst trying to save the lives of innocent hostages.

Four bomb threats in one day in Stockholm send shockwaves through the Swedish authorities, not least Superintendent Alex Recht who has recently taken up a new job with the National Bureau of Investigation.

But worse is to come. Shortly afterwards, a crowded New York-bound flight takes off from the city and anonymous hijackers demand that the Swedish government revoke its decision to deport North African man Zakaria Khelifi.

Unless their demands are met, the plane will be blown up as it attempts to land. The US and Swedish governments must choose between negotiating with terrorists to save the 400 passengers held hostage at 30,000 feet, or to stand their ground and pursue the deportation of a man who might just be innocent.

Academic and analyst Fredrika Bergman, who has taken up a temporary post with the Justice Department, returns to act as a liaison between Recht and the abrasive Eden Lundell, an agent with the security service’s counter-terrorism unit.

But they soon realise that the plot behind the hijacking is far more complex than anyone initially thought. As the hours pass, the team are running out of options… and the plane is running out of fuel.

Ohlsson plays a clever game in Hostage, using current political debates on immigration and integration as a backdrop to the West’s balancing act between protecting its citizens and upholding the democratic principles on which many of its national constitutions are based.

As the clock ticks, we watch security services on both sides of the Atlantic – desperate to avert needless death and destruction – forced into a confrontation with the reality of their shared policy of non-negotiation with terrorists.

Ohlsson’s use of time-switches and cliffhangers, a cast of vibrant, flawed characters and some acute political observations make this a superb psychological thriller with an unsettling streak of terrifying authenticity.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)