Review | The Andalucian Friend, Alexander Söderberg

coverThe Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg is a fairly typical thriller. It is as “turbo-charged” and “action-packed” as the publisher blurb promises, yet it lacks the emotional punch that might’ve made it stand out.

Nurse and single mother Sophie Brinkmann unwittingly gets caught up in a world of crime and violence when her boyfriend Hector Guzman turns out to be a crime lord locked in a drugs/weapons trade war with a rival German group. Add to the mix a group of cops with shady methods and even shadier motives, and you have the makings of a real page-turner.

Unfortunately, you also have the potential to create a complete mess. To Söderberg’s credit, he does keep his multiple plot lines under tight control. Still, a lot of the story was just confusing and while the character list at the beginning of the book could’ve helped in keeping the characters straight, there just wasn’t enough differentiation between characters to care. Söderberg’s characters have obscure motives and engage in double dealing, which again could’ve been very intriguing, but instead there were just too many too soon, and with not enough at stake to make you care. Similar types of stories succeed by having at least one character who anchors the whole story, and whose fate keeps us glued to the pages, for example Smiley in John Le Carre’s novels or Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. Presumably, Sophie was meant to anchor this novel, but even she got lost among the large cast.

The book does get better — Söderberg just takes his time to get there, but eventually we do get to know some of the characters better, they become more distinct from each other, and the twists have a bit more of an impact. Particularly strong is the subplot about Sophie’s son, and how his life is turned upside down by his mother’s connection to Hector Guzman. The final few chapters are the best part — Söderberg ramps up the adrenaline and all the various subplots come crashing together. The climax is a bit of a typical resolution scene in a shoot ’em up TV show or movie, though the descriptions are a bit gorier than network TV.

Overall, not a bad book. The beginning is confusing and the characters weren’t well developed for most of the story. The language is also a bit clunky, which could’ve been a translation issue. It might have worked better as an action-thriller movie, where character development, particularly for minor villain characters, doesn’t matter as much, and where the high-adrenaline scenes might have had more impact. Still, the character revelations near the end of the book are interesting, the subplot regarding Sophie’s son is unexpectedly moving, and the action-packed pace did keep me reading. Andalucian Friend is an okay book, just not a memorable one.

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Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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