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An imagined extension of a real past makes for a riveting novel, writes William Saunderson-Meyer of Anton Svensson’s The Sons

Published in the Sunday Times

The Sons
*****
Anton Svensson (Sphere, R295)

Anders Roslund and Stefan Thunberg, authors of The Sons. Picture: Supplied.

 
This powerful epic of a Swedish family whose lives are blighted by crime is riveting. Though this is part of the Made in Sweden series and is following on Svensson’s earlier book The Father - an enormous critical success – it can be read as a stand-alone.

Anton Svensson is the pseudonym of Stefan Thunberg and Anders Roslund. Thunberg is a celebrated screenwriter, responsible for the Wallander television series, based on Henning Mankell’s novels. Roslund is an award-winning investigative journalist and crime writer, who is also half of the Roslund and Hellstrom writing duo, whose books have sold more than five million copies.

The novel takes strands of fact from the past and with aplomb weaves them into a tapestry of what might have happened next. What constitutes the past in The Sons is inspired by the real events that form the basis of The Father.

The impetus for The Father came directly from Thunberg’s life. Though he and his mother lived conventional lives, his father and three brothers moonlighted as Sweden’s most notorious bank robbers. Dubbed the Military Gang for their precision strikes and their readiness to use violence, they netted millions of kronor before being captured.

It was only then that their mother discovered that the apparently successful construction business that the family ran was, in reality, a front. Stefan, though privy to some of their crimes, never participated.

The Sons, which is now fiction and not based on real events, begins with the eldest brother, Leo, being released from prison and trying to reconstitute the gang for one last heist.

Much of the psychological tension comes from the interplay between the innocents of the family and the father, Ivan, and Leo, who take familial loyalty as an absolute given. Failing it being given voluntarily, they are willing to enforce it with unflinching brutality.

Stefan, centre, with his brother Carl and his father, Boris. Picture: Anna-Lena Ahlström.

 
A seminal event in their early lives is when Ivan beats his wife nearly to death, if not for then 14-year-old Leo’s intervention. Leo washes out the blood and explains to his brothers: “What happened here has to stay here. That’s how it works in a family.”

Here is the core of this family’s tragedy: domestic and child abuse, alcoholism, violent crime and terrible secrets. The surprise is not that the family is shattered by a tsunami of pain, but that any of them later manages to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The theme is of the father’s sins being visited upon the sons. Leo’s plan is to steal, for a second time, the millions seized during their arrest, which is now housed in the Stockholm police station.

John Broncks is the detective who put the gang behind bars in the first novel and now suspects Leo of planning another job. But Broncks is to discover that it is his own brother, Sam, also freshly released from prison, who is Leo’s key accomplice.

Broncks is now in a quandary, as he owes his brother an enormous debt – a life-saving intervention that protected Broncks from their abusive father. @TheJaundicedEye

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