Cover image of "The Andalucian Friend," a novel about an international gang war

The publisher and critics alike have chosen to compare this novel to the Lisbeth Salander stories of Stieg Larsson. But I see no valid comparison. The protagonist, Sophie Brinkmann, is a widowed nurse with a fifteen-year-old son. She could hardly be any different from the diminutive, ass-kicking heroine of Larsson’s imagination. They’re both Swedish and both women, but there the similarity stops. And the novel is hard to pigeonhole, though it’s a story about an international gang war that echoes The Godfather and The Sopranos.

An innocent woman caught up in an international gang war

Sophie unwittingly stumbles into a running battle between rival European drug smuggling syndicates. She becomes entangled in an unorthodox police operation targeting the Swedish end of one of the two gangs. But there is no clear dividing line between good and evil, as Larsson seemed to suggest in his novels. There are no innocents here. Everyone behaves badly. In fact, you may wonder who are the bigger criminals—the gangsters or the cops. It’s a close contest.

The Andalucian Friend is a novel worthy of its author, a screenwriter, with a cinematic opening and a profusion of action scenes set in exotic locales around the world. It’s a truly original story that follows none of the conventional formulas of police dramas, despite a beginning that suggests it will.

The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg (2013) 465 pages ★★★★★   

Aerial view of Stockholm's Old City, where much of the action takes place in this novel about an international gang war
Aerial view of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old City), where much of the action in the novel takes place. Image: Viator

A generous, charming, and attentive gangster

When Hector Guzman ends up in a Stockholm hospital after his leg is broken by a hit-and-run driver, Sophie is assigned to his care. She is a classically beautiful Swedish blonde as well as clearly intelligent, and Hector is entranced. The two hit it off. And a perceptive police detective named Gunilla Strandberg who is sitting in the hallway outside Hector’s room detects the attraction. Once Sophie and Hector have gotten together following his release on crutches, Gunilla approaches her for information about him. Her intention to enlist Sophie as an informer is clear, but Sophie is reluctant. In any case, she knows very little about the man other than that he is generous, charming, and attentive.

Action galore, in Sweden, Germany, Spain, Holland, and Paraguay

The action comes thick and fast after that. Hector is the scion of a wealthy criminal syndicate based in Marbella, Spain. There, his father, Adalberto, lives in splendor, basking in the admiration he receives for his generous philanthropy. Hector runs operations out of a Stockholm restaurant. But all is not well with the Guzmans’ business. A powerful German syndicate based in Munich has been attacking their cocaine shipments en route from Paraguay to The Netherlands, and the rivalry is heating up into all-out war. Hector’s broken leg is an early sign of the international gang war that’s brewing. Yet Sophie knows none of this. She cannot see why the police are interested in him.

As Sophie becomes more and more involved with Hector and his family, Gunilla Strandberg’s police operation comes into focus. We meet the misfits and thugs she employs in her no-holds-barred campaign targeting Hector and his business. We know that none of this will turn out well. What we don’t know is how. In fact, we can’t possibly guess what will happen.

About the author

Image of Alexander Soderberg, author of this novel about an international gang war

Alexander Söderberg (1970-) has worked as a screenwriter for Swedish television. The Andalucian Friend is his first novel and inaugurates a planned trilogy. He lives with his wife and children in the south of Sweden.

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