Book Review: Studio Sex by Liza Marklund

I will be honest: I found this through Netflix. More importantly, many months ago I had an Agatha Christie marathon that triggered Netflix’s very complicated, often erroneous select-to-watch algorithm to point me at Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, which led me to Wikipedia and to Liza Marklund and her series of Annika Bengzton novels!

So … Netflix made me do it?

The television series, for what it’s worth – is really good, and I totally recommend you guys watch it. I watched it all in a weekend – and loved it!

Which is why I then ran out and grabbed the books to read!

Review after the jump!

Synopsis:

When freelance reporter Annika Bengtzon gets a call that a murdered woman’s body is lying in a Stockholm graveyard, she knows immediately that this story might be her ticket to the permanent job she craves. Annika’s position at the big-city tabloid is tenuous and her mother and boyfriend want her to come back to the local paper she has worked for, to stay near home and settle down. As she pursues the murderer, battling the male-dominated cliques of the newsroom, Annika must also overcome her own inexperience and the instincts that will draw her much too close to the story.

This is technically a prequel to The Bomber, which was the first Annika Bengtzon novel. I haven’t read that one yet, since I decided to start at the series in a world-chronological sense. It starts the story when Annika is an intern at the paper she works out of in the series (btw – if you do watch the series and read the books, they are very different – I think they compliment one another, but they are very different) and so this is before she really understands her job and its parameters. As such, she makes a lot of rookie mistakes that make you sigh audibly.

That being said, it’s a good story.

The story is told on several levels: the murder itself, Annika’s internship and prospects for a permanent position, Annika’s life back in her hometown that she wants to get away from, a potential government scandal and the way the press deals with the murder. All of those are weaved together – sometimes strangely – until a cohesive story emerges where everything tends to be connected, and not altogether very neat. But why would a story about reporting on murders be neat anyway?

Annika is an interesting character – she’s young, almost idealistic, and still willing to rough it in order to get where she wants to go.  She lets her emotions get the best of her sometimes, has a lot of pride and even more self-doubt and secrets that threaten to unravel her whole life. She’s not perfect – and she shouldn’t be – she’s very young, very untried and sometimes not entirely likable, which is exactly how she ought to be. You end up liking her through her intelligence and her tenacity – a combination that sometimes bowls under her own inexperience, but generally, I think, wins in the end.

The murder mystery itself is both ordinary and complicated, in ways that may be too spoiler-filled to say here. Essentially, a woman is found naked in a park, murdered. She worked at Studio Sex – a nightclub of sorts, where she danced. Suspicion falls on a whole host of people, including a minister, and the deceased’s boyfriend. Women being murdered by men more powerful than them – especially women in the sex industry, is not uncommon, something that makes me very sad. And part of the media’s response in the book is to echo those sentiments of “sex worker murder is deserved murder” and the like of which we see here whenever prostitutes go missing, or strippers are attacked. The genius of it, of course, is how she takes the ordinary and makes it reprehensible – both by detailing that response, and then by explaining how the media “spins” it and then by the POV character of the deceased’s best friend. There is something about the woman’s POV – something we don’t often get in novels (or real life accounts) of sex-worker crimes – that makes it all the more tragic. It humanizes a profession that has existed in the shadows, because of puritanical beliefs and our own discomfort with female sexuality – and the book is good at dismantling that.

What I think is striking about this book, and almost all the Swedish crime fiction I’ve read, is the details – all those small things. It’s a hard thing to really point out, but there are these little mentions of the way the press work, the law works and more especially, the way the government works that makes this book better for me. I am not sure if this is because these are translations and in order to have English audiences understand the Swedish system, they add these little tidbits, but for me – a legal nerd with a heart for governmental openess and free press – it makes it all so much better!

The resolution of the whole book happens in a few parts that make the latter bit of the novel a little bit slow and detached, but the ending is pretty good for all of that, and it really does make you want to continue Annika’s story.

So I recommend it – both for the story itself and the character of Annika who is on my list of characters worth watching out for.

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