If there was any doubt after last December's The Game, the second and third books of Anders de la Motte's stunning, one-step-beyond debut trilogy confirm his status as a master manipulator.
With Buzz and Bubble (both HarperCollins, 320 pages, $18), the former Swedish cop and security expert for Fortune 500 companies doubles down on the alt-reality trials of Henrik (HP) Petterson, a charming slacker with delusions of fame and fortune. Recruited by a mysterious group that taps society's disaffected for increasingly sinister "assignments," with shared viewings, ratings and rewards, HP soon comes into conflict with his sister Rebecca, who heads a Swedish police bodyguard unit for politicos.
Buzz finds HP anonymously and comfortably ensconced in Turkey after escaping the Game 14 months earlier. But has he? Paranoid that the Game is still manipulating (or at least monitoring) his life -- especially after he's suspected of murdering a comely IT millionaire in Dubai -- HP infiltrates a Swedish social-media marketing firm to find out how and why he was framed. But it's the tightly wound Rebecca's restless personal demons that drive the book's relentless pace, with an online stalker sabotaging her career in a manner that smacks of the Game.
A year later in Bubble, an increasingly paranoid HP is in hiding from both the law and the Game, while Rebecca is on leave from her police job, working for an IT company and even more depressed and full of self-doubt. Deciding to make one final effort to expose the insidious Game Master, HP discovers more secrets with links to massive personal-data collection, his own father and even a royal Swedish wedding.
Both books start slowly but soon crank up to breakneck speed, pounding down to quite an unpredictable cliffhanger in Buzz and an even more unforeseen finale in Bubble, where reality and self-delusion mix deliciously.
Employing alternating, sometimes-jangly narratives, de la Motte builds cat-and-mouse connections between the parallel HP and Rebecca storylines that both infuriate and compel.
With themes ranging from family allegiances and values to how manipulation of Internet content threatens the perception of truth in the digital world, the Game Trilogy is a disconcerting, thought-provoking thrill-ride.
In Ukraine's genocidal famine years, a budding Stalinist "pioneer" informs on her own father and other villagers, and is in turn betrayed by her jealous sister.
Eight decades later, a young refugee, convicted of trying to kill her abusive Danish fiancé after fleeing the murder of her journalist husband in Kiev, escapes custody in a frantic bid to reunite with her ailing daughter. Now, someone is trying to kill both of them, and only a Danish Red Cross nurse, a skeptical Danish cop and the mother's own fierce love for her child stand in the way.
At first blush, it might be tempting to conclude that Death of a Nightingale (Soho, 368 pages, $27) is a bleak feminist tract written by women, about women and for women. That would be a big mistake.
True, this is a wince-inducing tale of four women and a young girl linked by generations of brutality, suffering, jealousy, betrayal and greed, conveyed with unremitting Scandinavian grimness by the Danish writing duo of Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis. But it's also a first-rate literary mystery that never forgets that the story comes first.
Harrowing and moving, it's one that will stay with you.
Associate Editor John Sullivan runs the Free Press Autos, Homes and Travel sections and specialty websites.