‘The Swimmer’ takes readers for a spy chase across Europe

“The Swimmer” features secret information with global implications, mysterious enemies, action, danger and long-awaited redemption. In this Swedish thriller written by Joakim Zander and published in 2013, the reader focuses on the compelling story of a young woman and her father, an aged and weary American spy who abandoned her as an infant.

The book opens with the unnamed spy on a deep cover mission for the CIA in Damascus, Syria, with his daughter. After the baby’s mother is killed in a car bomb intended for him, he leaves his daughter to be raised as an orphan by her grandparents and escapes back to the United States, haunted by what has occurred. 

The narrative then alternates between the past and the present, with the flashbacks showing the spy as he travels the world using danger to deal with his pain. Readers are able to follow his path through time as he moves toward an intersection with the modern conflict that intertwines with his past.

The present plot of the story follows several characters as they attempt to evade threats from a villainous group known as Digital Solutions. One character, Mahmoud Shammosh, had uncovered evidence of the company’s war crimes in the Middle East during his research into the privatization of war. 

Once he is being hunted by Digital Solutions, Mahmoud faces constant threats to his life and must remain on the run as a fugitive. To stay alive, he recruits the help of his old friend, Swedish EU aide Klara Walldeen, who is the only person he knows he can trust.

The two are then thrown into a chase across Europe on a mission to avoid their pursuers and uncover the truth.

The entire plot of the book leads up to an ending where all of the characters converge on the Swedish archipelago for a final conflict. Klara had returned there to her childhood home with Mahmoud’s information, and the enemies finally reached her. The only hope she has is the spy, who undertakes a rapid scramble across the world to save her after finding out about the danger. He finally receives his chance to confront his past and set everything right by protecting the daughter he deserted after the tragedy in the beginning of the story. 

The ending is full of suspense and action that resolves the entire three decades of the story.  To get there, Zander structures the book so that the past catches up with the present. The chapters narrated by the American spy are interspersed throughout the book, and his story finally catches up with the present as the book reaches its climax. This structural format by the author is the most exceptional part of the book.

“The Swimmer” is a cliche spy story, yet the intriguing plot points and unexpected twists makes this book one of a kind. 

The most significant difference from traditional spy thrillers is its darker presentation of America’s power and influence in the world. It contrasts other stories where an American hero saves the world because the portrayal is mostly negative. Much of the book is a fictional account of America’s real use of private contractors in wars around the world. The conflict in the novel originates with Digital Solutions, which is one such company.

The plot follows the traditional route for the genre with action revolving around spies, violent enemies, and secret information. It also features the typical shootouts and chase scenes, not different from similar books of the genre. 

To make up for this, “The Swimmer” features the very compelling storyline of a spy losing himself in his work to escape his failures and eventually receiving a chance for redemption. Nicknamed The Swimmer, he is a memorable aspect of the book as readers accompany him on his journey. 

The fact that most of the story takes place in Europe makes the setting interesting for American readers. The relationships between the characters, which deepen as they face adversity, is another strength of the novel. 

Despite these successes, the story falls short in other aspects. The entire book built up to the ending, yet it was anti-climatic, despite its significance and the anticipation from the reader. The most important moment is much too abbreviated, even though the ending as a whole is drawn out. To its credit, it provides plenty of action and a resolution to the story, but because of that one anti-climactic finale, it leaves the audience unsatisfied.

One major problem with the book is that there is no clear protagonist. There are several well-developed main characters, but none stand out as the focus of the story. The constant shifting between characters and time periods is also jarring.

The plot is fascinating, yet there is a lack of mystery to the story because of its predictability.

“The Swimmer” is easy to read; there are no complex difficulties in plot or language that make it difficult for readers to understand. In addition, the story flows smoothly. Readers should expect to be able to finish the book relatively quickly. 

Overall, “The Swimmer” is worth a try for those who enjoy the genre, but time is best spent elsewhere for those less interested in spy thrillers.