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Maria Gustafsson, Den vidunderliga utsikten (The Amazing View)

Prisma,  2002. ISBN: 9151841142

Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2004:2

This fast-moving spy thriller opens with a series of mighty explosions at a NATO top meeting in Amsterdam, and then retrospectively follows events leading up to the carnage. At the centre of the action is Klara Andersson, a Swede who has lived many years in Spain, where she worked as an interpreter and a TV producer. When her husband leaves her for a younger woman she returns to Sweden where she works for a Stockholm-based TV company. When preparing a programme on security organizations she is horrified to discover that she is on Mossad’s database as Fatima, a Hizbollah agent. By coincidence, when asked to interpret at Karlskrona shipyards she is shown the navy’s YS 2000 stealth vessel.
In 1974 Klara interpreted for an American TV company in Madrid and met Luis Hornett, who offered a retainer for reports on Spain under Franco’s rule. He also arranged an abortion in a private clinic in Madrid when she believed she was bearing his child. While there she had plastic surgery on her nose. She is furious to discover that Hornett is a CIA agent and that by submitting reports on Spain to Hornett she has been unwittingly dragged into the world of espionage.
In 2001 Fahrid, a ruthless, sadistic Iraqi spy is sent to Sweden for information on the YS 2000 project. He believes Klara is Fatima and is determined to force her to help him. Hornett admits that the CIA is responsible for her being wanted by Mossad. They now want her as a decoy to catch Fahrid, and in return will have her name removed from Mossad’s database. Events move swiftly up to the fatal explosion when Klara is slightly hurt but manages to escape.
Maria Gustafsson keeps the plot moving and builds up tension. She knows intimately the international settings against which she places her characters, and moves effortlessly from Spain to Sweden, New York, Brussels and Amsterdam. Her personal experience as both TV producer and interpreter gives her description of studios, international conferences, EU Parliament and Swedish government offices an authentic ring.
Her second novel, a kind of “what Klara did next” covers as much ground geographically, but Klara is now more introspective. She has a guilty conscience, having killed a man (admittedly in self-defence), and Mossad is still pursuing her. She even has the CIA and Swedish intelligence services after her, for they suspect her of involvement in the NATO explosion. Too distraught to think clearly, she flees to Spain, takes to heavy drinking, is robbed and almost raped and wakes up in hospital. A shady lawyer gets her to Colombia where she enters a private clinic. She is helped by Dr Guzmán, a charitable psychiatrist, but is recognised by Pratsky, an opportunist, and receives mysterious veiled threats. Pratsky arranges for her to work for a Russian oil firm trying to establish itself in Colombia. She finds that part of her job is to understand the political situation (where drug barons, guerrillas, and paramilitary forces are all active), and to establish contact with venal, influential people. By chance she meets an old acquaintance Milan Koci, an idealistic architect working with the WHO in Colombia. Through him she becomes embroiled in a rogue American firm dealing in pesticides, pretenders to the Colombian presidency and the visit of a high-level American team including Condoleezza Rice. The plot is less structured than in the first novel, but there is no lack of action, and as before it is obvious that the author is setting her characters against locations she knows well. Maria Gustafsson has a fairly racy style and is not afraid of “adult” scenes, including successful love-making, a brutal rape, and a sadistic terrorist who enjoys inflicting pain. Her heroine is initially slightly naïve but tough. She is slightly ambivalent, for though she tells Hornett that she wants her life back she also craves adventure. She is interested in food and wine and clothes, is physically attractive, sensuous, and although not exactly promiscuous is certainly sexually emancipated. She is feminine, but loves driving fast cars, takes lessons in the martial arts after being raped and is prepared to use lethal weapons if she has to – even if it does bring on a mental breakdown afterwards. Not exactly a female counterpart to James Bond, but certainly more nuanced.

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