Early 1980s, Damascus. A nameless American spy abandons his newborn child to an uncertain fate. His inability to forgive himself for what he has done leads him on a life-long quest to escape his past which will take him to Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq – anywhere where danger and stress allow him to forget.
Thirty years later, the young Swedish EU Parliament employee Klara Walldéen and her ex-boyfriend Mahmoud Shammosh come across sensitive information about torture at American black op sites that turns them into targets for clandestine CIA agents on a mission to cover up what risks becoming an explosive international scandal. The two former lovers are thrown into a terrifying hunt through Europe where borders between countries have become as porous as the lines between friend and enemy, truth and lie, past and present. After being stamped as terrorists, Klara and Mahmoud must keep moving in order to survive. But in the end, not even running will save them from pursuers who have the power of governments behind them.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, the opportunistic Swedish lobbyist George Lööw has been assigned an unpleasant client with a shady agenda; a client whom his superiors seem unusually keen to please. It turns out that the client is the very same CIA team that is tracking Klara and Mahmoud. George’s already questionable morals are stretched to the limit as he is drawn into a deadly game where neither the rules nor the players are what they seem.
When the nameless American spy learns that Klara Walldéen is his daughter, and that a CIA team led by his own superior is hunting her, he sets out on a mission to save the child he once abandoned. The threads of the story are woven together on a stormy Christmas Eve in the Swedish archipelago where blood is spilt, shocking discoveries are made, and the past inevitably catches up with the present.
The Swimmer is an action-packed thriller filled with unexpected twists and turns in a world of shifting allegiances and questionable bonds. But it is also a story about guilt and atonement and the fact that, in the end, you cannot hide from your past. Debut novelist Joakim Zander sets his tale on the political stage in Brussels, in the hushed halls of CIA headquarters in Virginia, in fever-hot war zones in the Middle East, and on the rugged cliffs of the Swedish archipelago. Written in a fast-paced style laced with startling lyricism, The Swimmer is surprising, addictive, and highly cinematic.
“Nothing short of brilliant.”
“An international thriller with the pace and intensity of a Jason Bourne adventure […] A compulsively readable page-turner with unexpected heart.”
Kirkus Reviews (US)
“The plot will resonate with readers appalled by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the George W. Bush administration’s embrace of private firms like Blackwater. Tension and action abound. But it is the depth of Zander’s characters and the quality of the writing, which at times touches elegance, that make The Swimmer a winner. (It’s already a best-seller in Europe, with rights sold in 28 countries.) Zander looks to be a very talented new branch on the flourishing tree of Scandinavian crime fiction.”
“Swedish author Zander’s entertaining first novel owes more to Forsythe and Ludlum than to Larsson and Mankell. […] Given Zander’s literate, descriptive style, it’s easy to see why this thriller has been a bestseller in Europe.”
Publishers Weekly (US)
“After Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jens Lapidus, there is a great new voice in Scandinavian crime fiction: Joakim Zander.”
“Zander is stirring up the whole crime genre.”
“One of the most remarkable thriller-discoveries this year.”
Die Presse (DE)
“Already with this debut novel, Zander has created a political thriller set in many different locations that is so well-researched and brazenly exciting that it leaves the reader speachless.”
“An absording chase thriller […] an excellent debut.”
The Times (UK)
“This is no orthodox Scandi noir; it is a novel with rare ambition and breadth. […] With a crackling denouement and strong characters, it richly deserves its reputation.”
Daily Mail (UK)
“Builds to exceptional tension.”
The Independent (UK)
“With his debut novel, The Swimmer, Zander creates a multi-layered, action-packed thriller. Zander skillfully changes points of view, thereby revealing new information but never too much – until all the parts shape into the whole big picture in the end.”
Dorstener Zeitung (DE)
“A full immersion into the classic spy story, masterfully written.”
La Republica (IT)
“Impressive […] A fast-paced thriller written in an international style. Joakim Zander has a good story to tell, a story that touches on moral questions as well as quilt and atonement, cupability and revenge.”
Borås Tidning (SE)
“The Swimmer is well written and incredibly thrilling, but its strength also lies in a carefully rendered cast of characters and an ability to avoid the predictability of the genre.”
Skånska Dagbladet (SE)
“Urban, cosmopolitan environments are ideal for political thrillers, which Joakim Zander demonstrates with flying colors in The Swimmer – a story of war, love, and shifting political agendas.”
“What could easily have become a forced cliché is brought to life by debut novelist Joakim Zander’s rich language and spot-on plotting. Zander successfully depicts both flashy EU-Parliament mingles and stormy boat rides between islands where the stark cliffs have been sharpened by thick ice. In the midst of the breathless action, Zander also succeeds in writing flesh-and-blood characters that feel believable.”
Dalarnas Tidning (SE)
“A fluidly written, thrilling, and worthwhile read.”
“It is so elegantly constructed that, while reading, I had to double-check that it really was a debut novel I was holding in my hands.”
“Writing international, political thrillers – with many protagonists, different timelines, and separate narratives – is demanding. Swedish debut writer Joakim Zander masters his craft fully. The Swimmer is a book you simply cannot put down The first 250 pages are thrilling – the last 100 pages are intensely thrilling!”
Verdens Gang (NO)