Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Bank Robbery, Scandinavian Style, in THE FATHER, Anton Svensson

John Dillinger, Jesse James, and Bonnie and Clyde may be America's most famous bank robbers -- but there was also Ma Barker, whose family formed the notorious Barker-Karpis gang, a ruthless group of three core members and some 20 others, and whose exploits spanned the Depression Era.

In Sweden, a string of bank robberies in the 1990s literally paralyzed commerce, as banks came to actually expect another violent attack from the team known as the Military Gang. Consider it Sweden's modern version of Ma Barker's gang. THE FATHER, the debut effort by "Anton Svensson," is the first of a two-book series that turns those robberies and the family behind them into compelling suspense fiction.

THE FATHER opens with an attack witness by sons Leo, Vincent, and Felix, as their brutal father returns after four years and batters their mother. For young Leo, struggling to both embrace his papa and stop papa's fists from pounding Mamma, the action is terrifying and confusing, and abruptly turned by his father into an object lesson in what it is to be a man.
Leo keeps hold of him, his arms around his father's waist, and leans into his body, as if he were still hugging him.

"It's your turn now, Leonard."

The smell of blood, spaghetti and meat sauce, and Mamma's blood. They look at each other.

"Do you understand? I won't be around any more, not here. You're responsible from now on."
And so this boy, oldest of the three but still heart-breakingly young, begins the confusing process of becoming a man as violent and powerful as his father. One who will, given the right plan and weapons, lead a set of crimes designed to make him rich and to terrorize Sweden.

THE FATHER is a powerful work of fiction, sweeping through years as Leo forges his team of brothers -- and one friend pulled into the group as well -- into an instrument able to commit the perfect robbery. By the time things go out of control, Leo is hooked on the addiction of increasingly violent and masterful crime, and can't seem to stop.

But the book's title beats the throb of drums under all of the action, because everything Leo puts together is a result of the "manning up" his father has taught him. And astute readers will see ahead into the catastrophes of his life far sooner than he can, as his father begins, after all this time, to seek a relationship with his son.

Although the book is the debut for "Anton Svensson," the author back-story is at least as complex as the novel itself: The pseudonym represents co-authors Stefan Thunberg and Anders Roslund. Thunberg is, in real life, the fourth brother of the actual notorious bank-robbing family, the brother who escaped the pattern and went to art school. Roslund's name should be familiar to readers of Scandinavian crime fiction, as he wrote for 14 years with Börge Hellström, creating the Roslund & Hellström author tag for award-winning Swedish crime fiction. When the Thunberg and Roslund met, they keyed into a new craft partnership -- writing a book that's neither "true crime" nor "crime fiction" but an entirely new hybrid. (The author website is layered and fascinating, by the way.)

THE FATHER is dark and often violent, but (thank goodness) stays out of the more perverse areas of crime fiction (not a sex crimes book, for example, and no gruesome games with corpses). I found it expertly paced, and the "dramatic" additions the authors made to shape the story are effective and memorable. The adept combination of narrative and inner revelation of how violence is forged in the soul is fascinating.

And for readers who become engaged with the fates of the dangerous men in THE FATHER -- a second book is on the way. The book's subtitle is MADE IN SWEDEN: PART I. It was released in Europe in August 2015, and released in the US this week; at a guess, the second volume may be a year or so away. Published by Quercus; pick up a copy of THE FATHER while the first US printings are still available.

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