When it comes to Alexander Soderberg’s first thriller, “The Andalucian Friend,” certain comparisons are probably inevitable. In a blurb on the back cover, bestselling author Brad Thor calls it “ ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ meets ‘The Sopranos.’ ” Soderberg, a former screenwriter from Sweden, has crafted his novel — the first in a projected trilogy — in a way that will be familiar to readers of the late Stieg Larsson: The ordinary meets the outre; mayhem ensues.
The ingenue in this case is Sophie Brinkmann, a young Stockholm nurse and a single mother to her teenage son. Sophie is attractive — “as if she had been born with a smile in her eyes” — and dispassionate about her job: “Patients rarely talked nonsense, except when they were getting better, and that’s when she left them, and they her.” In the logic of thrillers, her well-ordered life is ripe for mayhem.
It comes in the form of seemingly respectable publisher Hector Guzman, who’s in the hospital with a broken leg and whose quiet strength of character makes Sophie realize she was lonelier than she imagined. At Hector’s gentle prodding, she tells him everything about her life (this instant confidence is one of the least believable things in a not particularly believable novel), and they quickly become friends. She doesn’t guess that Guzman’s business is a front for an extensive drug-smuggling operation that has earned him a host of gangland enemies — as well as the attention of special-investigations cop Gunilla Strandberg (a marvelously icy creation, the smartest and least human character in the book). These people — cops and gangsters — are all crooked, all mildly befuddled by Sophie’s inherent morality.
Soderberg has messily overpopulated his narrative with characters who are difficult to tell apart, and some of his dialogue strains for tough-guy cadence. But he puts his cinematic background to good use, creating one tense scene after another and jump-cutting all the way to a climax that’s as bloody as something out of Njals Saga. Through it all sails Sophie — calm and moral, “like the innocent nurse that she was.” But don’t you believe it.
Donoghue is managing editor of the online magazine Open Letters Monthly.
THE ANDALUCIAN FRIEND
By Alexander Soderberg
Crown. 446 pp. $26