With the abundance of sleuths who have become household names, from Sherlock Holmes to Harry Hole, crime fiction can often seem synonymous with serialized detective stories. Yet the genre occasionally produces the rare narrative that focuses instead on the criminal character. Rather than relegating these figures to the role of conventional antagonists, Anton Svensson’s The Father, Made in Sweden: Part I (2016) portrays the lives of four bank robbers with empathy and intensity as it delves into the structures of familial alliance, social inclusion, and economic disparity that compel their criminality.
The first of a two-novel series, The Father is based on the true story of three brothers who executed a string of bank heists in Sweden during the 1990s. In the fictionalized account, three brothers — Leo, Felix, and Vincent Dûvnjac — and their childhood friend Jasper first plunder an army artillery before staging robberies that become increasingly ambitious in scope, leading the media to dub them the “Military League.”
Co-authored under the pseudonym of Anton Svensson, The Father achieves its intimate perspective from Stefan Thunberg, the fourth brother, and its naturalistic style from Anders Roslund, the investigative reporter who covered the story. This unique combination results in multiple points of view that portray both an incisive interiority, when voicing the thoughts of the Dûvnjac family members, and a distanced objectivity, when City Police detective analyzes the Military League’s actions.
The skillfully crafted narrative alternates between past and present timelines in order to detail the childhood events that led to the brothers’ crime spree, as various permutations of violence permeate the lives of the Dûvnjacs. Ivan, the titular father, uses force as a form of dominance and discipline within his household, repeatedly beating his wife into submission while teaching his sons that family is an unbreakable bond, as he trains his oldest son, Leo, how to box in self-defense. The prologue exemplifies this paradox of violence, documenting the singular encounter that results in the dissolution of the brothers’ bond with their abusive father, which consequently strengthens their ties to one another. Their recollection of this moment, however, is subjective, as each brother insists that he is responsible for opening the front door for their estranged father, allowing him access to attack their mother and forcing them to finally take a stand against his brutality. In turn, each brother’s interpretation of this incident reveals a particular psychological motivation for his criminal activity.
With its emphasis on family dynamics, The Father is a crime novel in the vein of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. One can’t ignore the similar patrilineal titles, but the two works also share a psychological exploration of criminality and kinship. Unlike The Godfather, however, in which the patriarch is a symbol of stalwart leadership and unquestionably power that passes from one generation to another, The Father is more concerned with the fallibility of such a conception. Rather than representing trust and loyalty as clear-cut parameters dictating that no one goes against the family’s interests. Instead, trust within the Dûvnjac clan vacillates between nurturing values of filial and fraternal obedience and disillusioning one of these ideals, illustrating how the ties that bind can eventually create a noose around one’s neck.
The Father, Made in Sweden: Part I (Quercus Books) available 5 April 2016.