ALEXANDER SÖDERBERG – The Andalucian Friend. The Brinkmann Trilogy #1. Crown, US, hardcover, March 2013. Broadway Books, trade paperback, October 2013.

   Sophie Brinkermann is a nurse and widowed mother whose life is changed dramatically when she finds herself attracted to Spaniard Hector Guzman, recuperating in a hospital in Stockholm, Sweden from a hit and run accident.

   She likes his gentlemanly ways and how he welcomes her into his extended fam0ily, and she doesn’t notice he is being carefully watched by Gunilla Standberg, a policewoman dressed as a Sophia Sister. What Sophie doesn’t know is about to blow up in her face since suave Hector Guzman is the leader of a crime syndicate recovering from a bungled attempt on his life by a rival German gang.

   Meanwhile half a world away in Paraguay Jens Vall, a likable arms dealer who knew and loved Sophie when they were younger, is sailing home with his latest shipment with no idea what he is about to step into.

   This complex and violent crime tale is yet another in the growing field of Scandinavian Noir, which has been around a while, a natural reaction to the bleak winter landscapes of the region, but of course got a huge boost for American audiences and publishers when Steig Larrson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy took off in print and then on screen.

Söderberg’s trilogy, of which this is the first, has been called the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo meets the Sopranos, but that’s entirely unfair to this twisty tale of crime, cops, betrayal, greed, corruption, and violence across multiple countries in which our heroine proves a human and all to believable victim and survivor.

   Allies shift and change position, good cops make mistakes, bad cops kill brutally to cover up their own crimes even when it means turning on their own. Some criminals are noble while most are dangerous sociopaths willing to sell anyone down the river for profit or survival. No ally can be trusted, which is why the simple decency of Sophie and Jens is one of the few bright spots in this brutal and violent novel.

   It is also a damn well written novel, told from multiple points of view, good evil and indifferent, with twists and shocking violence at every turn, violence that makes permanent changes in Sophie and her son’s life, and her growing strength and determination to survive and save her son.

   Several well drawn characters move through the books including Lars Vinge a sadistic cop whose life is falling apart; Tommy Jansson a police loner whose wife is dying of ALS and who cleans up potential public messes at the point of a very private silenced gun; Aron Geisler, Guzman’s right hand man; Ander’s Ask, who does illegal favors for the police; Ralph Hanke, the head of the German gang; and, Mikhail Asmarov, a Russian mobster cutting in on Hanke’s attempt to cut in on Guzman, plus assorted killers, cops, and drug cartels.

   I’ve read the second book in the series, The Other Son, and I can attest it continues Sophie’s growth into someone darker and more dangerous than she could ever have believed with the same skill and style of the first book. I am looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.

   That said, the books stand alone, and while I can’t imagine you could read The Andalucian Friend without wanting to know what happens next, it does stand on its own without the sequel. The Other Son is a bit more of a continued piece, but not without tying up most of its loose ends. The cliffhangers it leaves are more soap than survival.

   Like the best of this genre the unexpected happens, characters die you think will not, and no one is safe, not even Sophie and Jens, from the spiraling violence as multiple gangs make a play for the Guzman’s territory and death comes from every direction. Söderberg does a fine job of keeping Sophie believably at the crux of criminal and police misdeeds and interests.

   Don’t expect Larsson, but this is just as original and just as page turning as hissaga. I hope this one gets the same kind of treatment on the small screen Larsson’s tale earned, it is too big for the big screen to do the story justice.