BOOKS Mur­der leaps over Euro­pean bor­ders

Thriller fin­gers Yu­goslav po­lice in Swedish killing

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - JAMIE PORTMAN

It re­mains one of the 20th cen­tury’s most no­to­ri­ous un­solved mur­ders.

On Feb. 28, 1986, Swe­den’s then-prime min­is­ter Olof Palme was fa­tally shot on a Stock­holm street af­ter at­tend­ing a movie with his wife.

His death sparked an un­prece­dented global in­ves­ti­ga­tion that would rack up some $50 mil­lion in costs.

But the lone as­sas­sin has yet to be found or iden­ti­fied.

Cana­dian thriller writer Alen Mat­tich thinks the truth may lie in the shad­owy re­cesses of Yu­goslavia in the dy­ing years of its ex­is­tence be­fore it was dis­mem­bered by civil war.

In­deed, his lat­est novel, Killing Pil­grim, pub­lished by Anansi, specif­i­cally fin­gers Yu­goslavia’s much-hated depart­ment of in­ter­nal se­cu­rity as be­ing com­plicit in Palme’s as­sas­si­na­tion.

Mat­tich has no doubt that the Yu­goslav se­cret po­lice (also known as the UDBA) was ca­pa­ble of this kind of bloody out­reach.

“It is known they were do­ing a lot of this stuff,” he says by phone from his Lon­don home.

Fur­ther­more, Western gov­ern­ments were ready to turn “a blind eye” to what was hap­pen­ing — be­cause al­though Yu­goslavia was a Com­mu­nist state, its lead­er­ship had bro­ken with the Soviet Union in pur­suit of a pol­icy of non­align­ment.

“Western gov­ern­ments were a lot more ac­com­mo­dat­ing to … the Yu­goslav se­cret ser­vice than they would have been to other Com­mu­nist states.”

Feared se­cu­rity bod­ies like Rus­sia’s KGB and East Ger­many’s Stasi may en­joy higher pro­files in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, but the new novel con­tains an after­word in which the 48-year-old nov­el­ist sug­gests that “of all the or­gans of state se­cu­rity op­er­at­ing from Europe’s Com­mu­nist bloc, the Yu­goslav se­cret po­lice was per­haps the most mur­der­ous be­yond its bor­ders.”

Killing Pil­grim chron­i­cles the fur­ther adventures and mis­ad­ven­tures of Mat­tich’s be­lea­guered Croat pro­tag­o­nist, spy op­er­a­tive Marko della Torre — Alen Mat­tich House of Anansi with the 1986 mur­der of Swe­den’s left-wing prime min­is­ter con­tin­u­ing to cast a lethal shadow years later on events hun­dreds of miles away.

The year is 1991 and Yu­goslavia is break­ing up. Croa­tia has de­clared its in­de­pen­dence and faces im­mi­nent war with Ser­bia. It’s against this tur­bu­lent back­ground that della Torre be­comes the vic­tim of a squeeze play by two ruth­less play­ers — the Croat na­tion­al­ist move­ment and the CIA.

He re­luc­tantly takes on a mis­sion to track down Palme’s pur­ported as­sas­sin — a sin­is­ter exUDBA agent whose very name — “the Mon­tene­grin” — trig­gers ter­ror within the es­pi­onage com­mu­nity.

Killing Pil­grim boasts a high sus­pense quo­tient, but it’s also strong in char­ac­ter — be­gin­ning with its en­gag­ingly sar­donic and re­luc­tantly heroic cen­tral char­ac­ter, della Torre.

“I see della Torre as a fairly or­di­nary guy, smarter than most, not par­tic­u­larly ad­ven­tur­ous or de­ci­sive, try­ing to get through dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. And try­ing to be as good a per­son as his cir­cum­stances al­low,” says Mat­tich.

In fact, Mat­tich con­fesses that the very name — della Torre — is a pun on “dila­tory” which rep­re­sents “a lit­tle bit of how I feel about him.”

“As a writer, you’d like to think that you’ve cre­ated some­thing that has sub­stance to it,” he ad­mits. “But to be hon­est, it’s a thriller. It’s de­signed to be en­ter­tain­ing — but pos­si­bly a lit­tle bit thought-pro­vok­ing, as well.”

House of Anansi

Alen Mat­tich’s Killing Pil­grim sug­gests Yu­goslavia’s depart­ment of in­ter­nal se­cu­rity was com­plicit in the death of Olof Palme.

Killing Pil­grim

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