Codename Faust by Gustaf Skördeman: A clever, compelling and multi-layered story – book review –

Swedish detective Sara Nowak hoped that a devastating burn injury to her face during a perilous encounter with a decades-old terror plot would become her only serious brush with death.
Codename Faust by Gustaf SkördemanCodename Faust by Gustaf Skördeman
Codename Faust by Gustaf Skördeman

But a dangerous assassin with the codename Faust – a man linked to a group of radical terrorists – has the volatile and headstrong police officer firmly in his sights... and he’s closing in fast.

Buckle yourself in for a thrill ride because screenwriter, director and producer Gustaf Skördeman returns with a brilliant new standalone spy drama starring the charismatic detective who won hearts and minds in his pulsating debut Geiger, a bestseller which was optioned for the screen by ITV’s Monumental Pictures.

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Translated by Ian Giles, Codename Faust is the same tense and terrifying mix of spy mystery and edge-of-the seat action thriller, delivering all the ingredients of a modern classic as Skördeman unleashes his filmic imagination on a tale stretching back into the Cold War and European terrorism.

And with a spy who never forgets and never forgives, a sadistic killing made to look like a suicide, a trail that leads to European terrorists, and a desperate hunt to find a fanatical assassin, Skördeman’s intriguing, perfectly plotted and super-powered novel is the next best thing to watching a blockbuster movie.

Who have you spoken to about me, what do you know about Operation Wahasha, and what have you told Sara Nowak? These are some of the last words priest Jürgen Stiller hears before he is executed by a former terrorist known only by the codename Faust at his picturesque vicarage.

Detective Nowak of the Stockholm police, meanwhile, is fully occupied by her personal life. Still recovering from the physical scars of being badly burned in a dangerous police operation, and the mental scars of discovering her well-known father was a rapist, she worries about how easily she resorts to violence against perpetrators despite her relief at just being alive.

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And after working as an investigator on the prostitution unit, Sara has had what is for her a ‘normal’ summer with her family and is back on the frontline. But even though she sometimes senses that she is being watched, Sara is dangerously unaware that she is being targeted by an assassin until she is fired upon in her own home.

As she races to unmask her would-be killer, the trail leads her back to West Germany, to a string of small radical cells of terrorist fanatics, and to the same deadly question that the murdered priest faced. What was Operation Wahasha?

With the assassin getting ever nearer, Sara has little to go on but she must find out who he is before many more lives are taken... including her own.

Nowak once more has her work cut out – and her life placed in deadly danger – as this twisting, turning, nail-biting spy mystery winds back through the years and through long memories to the shadowy era of East Germany’s menacing state security service the Stasi, and the notorious 1970s German Baader-Meinhof terrorist group.

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Skördeman slowly and intriguingly reveals some hidden and disturbing truths as real history and fiction blend seamlessly, the tension is ramped up to breaking point and readers are plunged into the inner workings of international terrorism and some dark corners of European history.

And at the heart of the clever, compelling and multi-layered story is the volatile Sara Nowak who longs to live a ‘normal’ life with the three things that keep her going – her family, her best friend Anna and some all-too-rare ‘solitude’ – but must instead struggle keep her hot temper under control... and win the battle to stay alive.

With a gripping story set against a fascinating historical backdrop, a cast of superbly imagined characters, and a race-against-time plot that culminates in one humdinger of a twist, Codename Faust is a wickedly good read!

(Zaffre, hardback, £16.99)