I eagerly threw myself over Klas Östergren´s follow-up to "Gentlemen", "Gangsters", which was published in 2005, 25 years after the first novel. Mostly, I wanted to know what had really happened to Henry and Leo Morgan. Did I find out? Well, not exactly.

We meet a much more mature Klas in this novel, and Klas the Narrator from Gentlemen is now one step closer to Klas the Author of both novels. What he does, actually, is betray the fiction: only a few pages into this story, he reveals that the brothers, Henry and Leo, are actually one and the same person. Maud the Mistress - who is pregnant with Henry´s child and has dumped the mysterious financier W.S. - reads Klas´s manuscript and then tells him her story, a corrective of which the details remain hidden to us readers. When the second manuscript is finished, suddenly there is a message from Henry, for Maud to meet him in Vienna. She, heavily pregnant and unable to go anywhere, sends Klas instead. He does not, however, find Henry there, but a man they call The Envoy, who is described as a kind of state-employed cleaning man, who plugs leaks, gets rid of awkward and inconvenient people, and what not. You could say he is the mobster henchman of the Swedish Welfare State. I see before me the equivalent of Harvey Keitel´s cleaner in "Pulp Fiction", powerful, dangerous, but much more beige.

Klas spends a night in the company of The Envoy, and only towards the end of the story do we find out some of what he learned in those hours. We do get some idea of what happened to Henry Morgan, but much remains foggy. Klas stays in touch with, but not close to, Maud and her son Gustaf, and years later is drawn back into the plot involving Henry´s disappearance, through his son. We also learn that the second draft of "Gentlemen" was completely re-written after the meeting with The Envoy, and that Maud was very put off when the book was finally published. What was left out, we never find out.

The style of writing is so much more mature and a real joy to read. You can really see how much better an author Östergren has become in the years that have passed: he is a master at character study and absolutely nails those awkward scenes with family and people that used to be our friends, situations that we all can relate to. He lets the characters be both complex and paradoxal at times, and all of them are as mysterious when the novel is finished as they were to start with. He also flavours the text with small nuggets of wisdom, of lessons learned, without ever touching a cliché. I loved these lines (in my own quick and dirty translation):
"...real pride is an evening-feeling, something that comes when the machines are cooling down, tools and equipment has been put away for the night, when one´s daywork is done and has been done well, just like all other days, weeks, months, and years."
The moral of this story is, I suppose, that we never can know, and for the most part don´t want to know, the truth about our friends or our country, those we love and trust. Klas is offered more insight than he is willing to recieve, and as a reader, I am all with him, not at all eager to open those doors to which he has a key that he prefers not to use, which is extremely skilfully done by Östergren the Author.

There is a gangster in every gentleman, and every gangster has a gentle side to him; this is certainly true of Henry Morgan, but also of W.S., of The Envoy, and even of Klas Östergren himself.

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