The Swimmer by Joakim Zander (Feb.10th, 2015)-Klara Walldéen is secure in her job as an EU parliament aide in Brussels. If she still has twinges of regret about a romance that ended years previously, she has her pick of smart, handsome men, and one in particular is the object of a current passionate, clandestine affair. When an old love, Mahmoud Shamoush, contacts her, asking for her help, she can’t say know, even if her heart still smarts from the way things were left between them. Mahmoud is a former soldier and current graduate student whose specialty is war (specifically the privatization of war, the for-profit war machine), and he’s very suddenly become caught up in the kind of life he thought he’d left behind: an email from an old acquaintance and assassins chasing him across rooftops has him in a panic, and Klara is the only person he feels he can turn to. Meanwhile, a lobbyist named George Lööw who works for a huge PR firm (and is convincingly smarmy) is hired by a shady company that calls itself simply Digital Solutions, and they’re paying him twice the going rate for his new gig, which seems to be planting spyware on Klara’s laptop and “keeping an eye” on her. He loves the lavish lifestyle that the money affords, but soon finds himself in way over his head.
Entwined with these narratives is that of a retired CIA man who was forced to abandon his baby daughter in Damascus in 1980 after his girlfriend, the baby’s mother, was killed by a car bomb, one that he thinks was meant for him. He’s mourned that choice since, even though he knows that he couldn’t have been a good father to her. He’s unnamed, but his narrative is a love letter to that girlfriend, full of regret, not only for abandoning his daughter, but for his actions in a pre and post 9/11 world. He’s always kept track of his daughter from afar, and now sees a chance to make up, somewhat, for his past mistakes, even if it costs him everything.
This book has, inevitably, been compared to the Bourne novels, and that’s fairly apt. The action is swift and tense, and the writer has a firm grip on the ins and outs of spycraft, and he writes like a beast. But, what makes this a standout book are the characters. They’re anything but three dimensional, and even George, who is such a slimy guy in the beginning (although he does have reservations about what he’s gotten himself into), is, ultimately, a surprise. I rooted for each of these characters in different way, and as much as this is an espionage novel, and a commentary on the nature of war (and our capacity for evil in the name of a greater good), at its core is a love letter from a father to the daughter he never knew, and a lament of a life full of regret. The Swimmer is exciting, thought-provoking, and heart wrenching in equal measure.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for review copy of The Swimmer