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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Woman from Bratislava. Leif Davidsen. Barbara J. Haveland (Translator) EuroCrime (2001)

An engaging and leisurely Danish political thriller that manages a big cast and ideas with care and skill. Teddy Pedersen, a Danish academic with a out of date specialisation in the Soviet Union, meet a woman who claims to be his half sister, sharing a father Teddy had thought was dead. When Teddy's full sister is arrested on spying charges, Teddy's family history appears to be the key to a widespread conspiracy that involves the emerging Eastern bloc countries as the brutal conflicts in the disintegrating Yugoslavia. The plot coils around very nicely, the reveals are carefully staged, the cast are vivid and context and implications of the appalling wars in the Balkans are superbly described.
This is as story that advances through the movement of the cast rather than action set pieces, the most important character is the one who is present the least, the woman from Bratislava herself. She is a dominating presence as the cast follow in her wake and try to locate her for various reasons. Her shadowy presence gives the book a surprising force as the cast try to understand her and each glimpse of her usual simply adding to her mystery rather than revealing her. This allows Leif Davidson to move his large cast with great freedom, the different narrative strands weave tighter to create a complex web of family, loyalty and the enormous political pressures the war created.
Leif Davidsen traces the links between individual choices and broader political and historical events with skill, they provide a sharp and mordantly cynical view of how justice is defined and served. The tension between individual actions and beliefs and greater social forces creates an well orchestrated tension in the book and gives the unexpected conclusion extra bite. Clever and unsentimental, this is a story with an angry heart that makes it well worth reading.

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