Monday, May 30, 2011

Review of The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidsen (Arcadia Books, 2007, original in Danish 1996)

The Danish newspaper, Politiken, has invited Sara Santanda, an Iranian author hiding in London from a death threat issued by fundamentalist clerics in her home country, to Copenhagen, Denmark. Their Arts editor, Chair of the Danish branch of PEN, Lise Carlson has been assigned the task of chaperoning and interviewing her, and liaising with the police with respect to her security. Carlson’s marriage to Ole is on the rocks and spending all her time preparing for Santanda’s trip is putting extra pressure on the relationship, as is her infatuation with the cop assigned to lead the security detail, Per Toftlund. Toftlund is ex-navy and happy-go-lucky when it comes to women. The Danish government want nothing to do with Santanda’s visit for fear of upsetting the Iranians and damaging economic relations. For the Iranian government, Santanda surfacing represents an opportunity to exact revenge for her critical and blasphemous writing. Aware of the diplomatic fallout if they carry out the hit, through a Russian intermediary they hire a young Bosnian Serb who grew up in Denmark before returning home just before the conflict in the Balkans erupted. After Vuk’s family was brutally slain he trained as an elite assassin, leaving a bloody trail in his wake. Now the war is coming to a bitter end, he's looking for a new life and hunting a Muslim woman for Muslim masters might just provide it.

The Serbian Dane is a straightforward thriller centred around three principal characters – Lise, Per and Vuk. The plot essentially revolves around all three preparing for Santanda’s visit to Denmark, and exploring their past and present circumstances. The strength of the book is the character development, which Davidsen patiently builds up. The plot is competent, but unsurprising, with no major twists and turns and, as a result, lacks real tension. It’s fairly clear from a long way out how the book is going to climax, even if the exact ending is more open. The writing is workmanlike, with a nice balance of description and action, and a nicely framed sense of place. Overall, a fairly standard political assassin thriller that was an okay, if unsurprising, read.

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