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THRILLER CARRIES SHOCK OF RECOGNITION

The Bomber
By Liza Marklund
Pocket Books
336 pages, $24.95

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Thrillers that feature newspaper reporters as protagonists usually make real newspaper reporters wince. But the reaction provoked by Liza Marklund's "The Bomber" is the shock of recognition. In the hands of reporter-turned-author, Marklund's exploration of the adrenaline-fueled life of a tabloid crime correspondent has the tang of truth.

This hard-bitten reporter is a young woman, and a mommy to boot. Annika Bengtzon, newly-appointed crime editor for the Stockholm tabloid Kvallspressen, has a minefield to thread through inside her own building as she deals with jealous reporting rivals and backstabbing staffers. As if trying to pry information out of reluctant sources on deadline isn't pressure enough, some nights Bengtzon has to worry about getting out in time to pick up the kids from day care as well.

It's freezing outside, near Christmastime in Stockholm, with yuletide carols and gift-buying in the air. But inside Bengtzon's head, the mercury is rising. A person or persons unknown has gotten into the stadium being built for the upcoming Olympics and blown a significant part of it into rubble. Compounding the mystery is the discovery of bits and pieces of Olympic chief Christina Furhage scattered across the infield like opening ceremony confetti.

As Bengtzon leaps into reporting the story and coordinating her newspaper's coverage of one of the nation's biggest stories of the year, readers are treated to a dose of Journalism 101. As she barters with sources and questions witnesses, the reader comes along for the ride.

Bengtzon struggles with the line between what the public needs to know and what would only titillate bystanders and sell papers. Her subordinates might like to see her fired, or worse, but she's mostly always right.

Tragically, just when "The Bomber" seems capable of blowing the reader into the stratosphere, it fizzles. All in all, this is one rookie effort that escapes the classic first-timer' pitfalls -- until the bitter end.

Andrew Z. Galarneau is a reporter in The News' Niagara Bureau

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