Review - MY NAME IS N, Robert Karjel

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My Name is N
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9780007586011
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Book Synopsis

Jo Nesbo meets Homeland in this sophisticated debut literary thriller about a Swedish security force agent sent to the U.S. for a special assignment, which delivers a breathtaking global twist on the darkly riveting narrative tradition of Nordic noir.

Ernst Grip of the Swedish security police has no idea why he is being summoned to the U.S. When he lands at a remote military base in the Indian Ocean, his escort, FBI agent Shauna Friedman, asks him to determine whether a prisoner who has been tortured by the CIA is a Swedish citizen.

At the military base, the prisoner, known only as N., refuses to talk. It appears he was involved in an Islamist-inspired terror attack in Topeka, Kansas. The attack was real, but the motivations behind it are not so simple. Evidence points to a group of desperate souls who survived the 2004 Thailand tsunami: a ruthless American arms dealer, a Czech hit man, a mysterious nurse from Kansas, a heartbreakingly naïve Pakistani – and a Swede.

Meanwhile, Grip himself is leading a double life. No one in Sweden knows that he is bisexual, passionately in love with an art dealer in New York who is fighting AIDS. Together, the couple will do anything to get him the drugs he needs to survive, a situation that leads Grip into terra incognita.

Book Review

When this review book arrived it was added to the teetering pile beside the couch, from where it was plucked by my partner on a cold Saturday afternoon, probably because he couldn't be bothered moving too far. Which turned out to be the last movement he made for quite some time. Needless to say he was enthralled enough to tweak my interest.

The territory covered in MY NAME IS N is wide and unexpected. From the 2004 Thailand tsunami a group of people emerge united in their loss, eventually determined to wreak havoc against a bigoted religious leader who uses the tsunami and deaths as an excuse to peddle vile crap. Needless to say it's not too hard to figure out the so called "preacher" that this character is based on, although it is rather hard, under those circumstances, to agree with the label of "Islamist-inspired" as it seems a lot more about "as you sow, so shall you reap".

The plot is complicated enough to mean that reader's will need to pay attention, particularly in the early stages, as the action moves backwards and forwards between events post the tsunami and the story of Ernst Grip, the Swedish security policeman summoned to the US to assist with the identification of a mysterious prisoner held in a high security CIA location - worse it seems than Guantánamo Bay. Exactly why Grip is the man who receives this summons isn't completely clear, nor is it really obvious what he's supposed to be achieving there, but he goes, meets with the prisoner known as N and eventually finds out a lot more than he bargained for.

Eagle-eyed readers of MY NAME IS N may opt to draw some educated conclusions about the possible connections between all of these events, and they could very well be spot-on. Whilst some of the outcomes aren't that difficult to foresee, the pathways getting there are nicely complicated, and frequently unexpected. Even if you do play the guessing game, it's an entertaining read, but if you're not even trying, just going with the flow, there is even more potential for entertainment and surprises.

Along the way there's some interesting storylines - Ernst Grip's double life between New York and Sweden, and the lengths he goes to for love is one thing, but the efforts undertaken by the tsunami effected five are another thing altogether. It might not even be hard to barrack for their efforts, even though some of their methods are violent and extreme.

Robert Karjel, the author of MY NAME IS N, has spent time working with American armed services in his role as a lieutenant colonel in the Swedish Air Force. His commentary on the set-up of clandestine bases, and the extremes of torture seems to be informed not just by experience, but also an outsider's viewpoint. His skewering of the horribleness of somebody blaming the victims after a major natural disaster is spot-on, and makes the motive behind the Kansas attack uncomfortably sympathetic. As the story unfolds there's plenty of doubt left about the identity of N, about the possibility of Grip knowing more or less than he seems, and what the possible reasons are for N's incarceration. Everything winds together nicely here, using plenty of action and pace, and just enough real-life reflections as well as "what if" scenarios to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, and, as is less often the case in thrillers, wondering about the greyness of right and wrong.

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