In Association with

Choose another writer in this calendar:

by name:

by birthday from the calendar.

Credits and feedback

for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Jan Guillou (b. 1944)


Swedish journalist and writer, who has gained international fame with his spy novels. Jan Guillou's hero, the count Carl Gustaf Gilbert Hamilton alias agent Coq Rouge, the Nordic James Bond, appeared in a series of books which have sold over four million copies (until 1998). Coq Rouge's adventures have also been made into films. Guillou's latest series is Det stora århundradet, a history of the 20th century, which started with the novel The Bridge Builders (2011).

"Till detta kom att han var en tämligen ståtlig man, före detta handbollsspelare i Sverige, före detta quarterback i ett amerikanskt universitetslag, och dessuttom försedd med grevlig titel, fullkomlig utbildning i etikettsreglar, god uppfostran allså, löjtnant i flottans reserv, motsvarigheten till pol mag i statskunskap med databehandling vid University of Southern California; kort och gott skulle han med den nya tidens värderingar, efter 60- och 70-talens utdöda radikalism, utan minsta ironi kunna beskrivas som en officer och gentleman." (from Coq Rouge, 1986)

Jan Oscar Sverre Lucien Henri Guillou was born in Södertälje, the son of Charles Guillou (b. 1922), of French origin, and Marianne Guillou (née Botolfsen, 1922-2013), whose family came from Norway. After his parents divorced, his mother remarried and his father moved to Helsinki, Finland, where Guillou's grandfather worked at the French Embassy. Guillou grew up in Saltsjöbaden and Näsbypark.  He was expelled from Vasa Real in Stockholm and from the Solbacka boarding school in Södermanland, eventually graduating in 1964 from the boarding school Viggbyholmsskolan.

Before becoming a journalist at FiB/Aktuellt in 1966, Guillou studied law two years. During the 1960s, Guillou had contacts with KGB. The newspaper Expressen claimed in 2009 that he was actually a KGB informer. Guillou himself has said, that he tried to investigate how the Soviet intelligence service operated in Sweden.

Upon publishing in 1973 for Folket i Bild/Kulturfront an article about Sweden's Intelligence service IB and its illegal political personal register kept by Social Democratic bureaucrats, Guillou and his colleague Peter Bratt were accused of espionage and condemned to prison for ten months. The verdict made Guillou a hero of the freedom of the press. IB was suppressed a few years later but during this period Guillou started to develop his idea of the Hamilton series, although the first novel, Coq Rouge, came out ten years later in 1986.

Guillou began his career as a writer in the 1970s, publishing novels and non-fiction. His first book, Om kriget kommer (1971), dealt with the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The partly autobiographical novel Ondskan (1981) was a story of family violence. Erik, the protagonist, is a young boy, who is regularly beaten after dinner by his sadistic stepfather. His mother plays Chopin, and does not defend him. At school Erik fights with his teachers, and is sent to a boarding school in Stjärnsberg – in reality Solbacka Läroverk. There the bullying continues, but eventually Erik takes his revenge. This "ugly duckling" theme of self-discovery, in which a misfit or outcast proves his superiority, repeats in a number of Guillou's books. Later Guillou's mother said in an interview, that she do not play the piano, and the daily beatings were not true. The film adaption of the book, directed by Mikael Håfström and starring Andreas Wilson, Henrik Lundström, and Linda Gyllenberg, premiered in 2003.  

Guillou's Coq Rouge novels have been translated into some 15 languages. These spy thrillers are among the few successful remnants, with Len Deighton's and John le Carré's novels, that have survived the diminishing popularity of the genre after the fall of the Soviet system. Carl Gustaf Gilbert Hamilton has special training in FBI and US Navy. He comes from the Swedish aristocracy, but he is also a former leftist, opposed the Vietnam war in the 1960s and was a member of the Maoist Clarté group. Hamilton works with Swedish Intelligence in his homeland and other countries.

In the first book Hamilton's major adversary is an Israeli terrorist group, in Den demokratiske terroristen (1987) he destroys again a terrorist organization. James Bond's favorite element, the water, is central in the underwater adventure I nationens intresse (1988). Hamilton is accused of espionage in Fiendes fiende (1989) and he becomes a public figure. Ingen mans land  (1992) takes the reader above the Pole Circle. In the story Hamilton stops the plan to smuggle nuclear weapons from Murmansk to Finland and further. Vendetta (1991) brings on the scene a new enemy: the Mafia in Sicily. In Ingen mans land (1992) President Mihail Gorbachev asks help from the President of Finland Mauno Koivisto, because military officers in Murmansk plan to sell nuclear weapons and smuggle them through Finland. When Finnish and American authorities are not allowed to operate in Russia, the only person, Carl Hamilton, with his special forces, is called to solve the threatening crisis.

The tenth book in the series, I hennes majestäts tjänst (1994), in which the title is almost a copy of the James Bond novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), and En medborgare höjd över varje misstanke (1995), present Hamilton as a lonely man haunted by memories. He has risen to the top of Intelligence, but lost his family in terrorist attacks. However, the character was resurrected in Madame Terror (2006), where Hamilton, as commander of a submarine, stands between the battle of two women, the American forreign minister Condoleezza Rice and the Palestinian brigade general Mouna al Husseini. The novel has a happy ending: the Gaza blockade is dismantled and the idea of a Palestinian state seems to become possible.

Harald Zwart's film Hamilton from 1998, written by William Aldridge and Jonas Cornell, was based on novels Den enda segern and Ingen mans land. The Swedish super-agent saved the world again in the films Hamilton - I nationens intresse (2012) and Hamilton: Men inte om det gäller din dotter (2012), directed by Tobias Falk. Carl Hamilton actors include Stellan Skarsgård (Coq Rouge, Tribunal, Den demokratiske terrotisten), Peter Haber (Fiendens fiende), Stefan Sauk (Vendetta), Peter Stormare (Hamilton), and Mikael Persbrandt (Hamilton - I nationens intresse, Hamilton: Men inte om det gäller din dotter).

As a child Guillou had been an avid reader of historical novels, especially he loved Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819). In 1998 Guillou moved from contemporary subjects to the medieval world. His trilogy about the Crusades started with the novel Vägen till Jerusalem, set in the 1200th century. '"Vägen till Jerusalem blev krokig i början, min käre Arn", sage Fader Henri stilla. "Men så var Guds vilja, därom är vi båda övertygade. Gå nu i frid!"' The book was published by Norstedt, who was for decades his publisher. However, Guillou left Norstedt in the summer of 1999, and joined a new publishing house, Ordupptaget.

The second part, Tempelriddaren, appeared in 1999. The central character, Arn de Goth, is engaged to Cecilia. After getting himself in trouble in Sweden, Arn is sent to the Holy Land, and Cecilia is enclosed in a convent. Both characters are persistent and clever survivors – Arn turns out to be an excellent swordsman, who beats famous Ivanhoe in a tournament. Cecilia goes through a period of being bullied, but gains authority when she brings the basics of bookkeeping to the management of the convent. Guillou combines their adventures with historical facts, refers to such figures as Saladin, who recovered Jerusalem from the Christians and whom Arn saves from bandits. In the third part, Riket vid vägens slut  (2000) Arn returns to Sweden. These Crusades novels were worked into two films, Arn - Tempelriddaren (2008) and Arn - Riket vid vägens slut (2009), directed by Peter Flinth. Hans Gunnarson, who wrote with Guillou the script for Mikael Håfström's film Ondskan, adapted the books into a screenplay. The historical saga continued in Arvet eftrer Arn  (2001), an independent part of the trilogy, which tells the story of the Swedish nobleman Birger Jarl (Earl Birger). Sandra Ballif Straubhaar has argued that Guillou's didactic agenda in the "Crusades" series was to present early Swedish progressive thinking. "Guillou has . . . portrayed a more multicultural early Sweden, coincidentally with more respect given to manual laborers, than has been previously acceptable to the Swedes." ('A Birth Certificate for Sweden, Packaged for Postmodernism: Jan Guillou's Templar Trilogy' by Sandra Ballif Straubhaar, in The Year's Work in Medievalism, 2002 - XVII, edited by Jesse G. Swan and Richard Utz, 2003, p. 68)

Most of his novels, Guillou has typed on an Adler typewriter. His books have sold especially well in the Nordic countries except in Finland, where they are only relatively popular. Guillou was after Astrid Lindgren the second highest earning writer in Sweden. In 1999 Guillou founded the publishing company Piratforlaget with Liza Marklund, Sigge Sigfridsson, and Ann-Marie Skarp, his long-time partner whom he married in 2010. He has two children with the writer Marina Stagh.

In addition of being a productive novelist, Guillou has worked for the television programs Magazinet (1981-84), Rekordmagazinet, and Grabbarna på Fagerhult (1990). He has also popularized academic historical research and published with with Leif G.W. Persson On jakt och jägare (1996), about hunting. Häxornas försvarare (2002), based partly on Bengt Ankarloo's, Jonas Lillequist's and Gustav Henningsen's studies, dealt with witch-hunts in the Nordic countries. Guillou yields his theme from the 17th century to the 1990s, combining it provocatively with false alarms on the sexual abuse of children. The title of the book, "the counsellor of witches", refers to Alonso de Salazar Frías, a priest, who saved at least 5,000 people from the hands of the Inquisition.

After finishing Fienden inom oss (2007), Guillou no idea for the next novel. When his wife wondered why family sagas in the style of Thomas Mann or John Galsworthy are not written anymore, Guillou began to develop a story about the Norwegian Lauritzen brothers, Lauritz, Oscar and Sverre. The first installment in the series, entitled Brobyggarna (2010, Bridge Builders), was followed by Dandy (2012), set in the art and gay circles of London. The fourth volume, Att inte vilja se (2014), started a debate over what was know about the Holocaust in Sweden before 1945. Guillou argued in an interview that the Swedes knew practically nothing. De som dödar drömmar sover aldrig (2018), set in the 1970s, is partly based on Guillou's conviction on espionage. Heinrich Böll, the 1972 Nobel Laureate for Literature, makes an appearance in the story. 

Guillou's several awards include the Great Journalist Award (1984), the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award (1988) for I nationens intresse, the Prix France Culture (1990) for Ondskan, the Writer of the Year Prize (1998) by Fackförbundet SKTF, and Book of the Year Literature Prize (2000) by Månadens bok. In 2004 Guillou was awarded in Norway for his work as a historical writer. Guillou's home is full of hunting trophies. 

For further reading: Jan Guillou - utifrån by Paul Frigyes (2014); Swedish Cops: From Sjöwall and Wahlöö to Stieg Larsson by Michael Tapper (2014); Höjd över varje misstanke: en bok om Jan Guillou by Paul Frigyes (2013); Ordets makt och vanmakt: mitt skrivande liv by Jan Guillou (2009); Förförande fiktion eller historieförmedling?: Arn-serien, historiemedvetande och historiedidaktik by Carina Renander (2007); 'A Birth Certificate for Sweden, Packaged for Postmodernism: Jan Guillou's Templar Trilogy' by Sandra Ballif Straubhaar, in The Year's Work in Medievalism, 2002 - XVII, edited by Jesse G. Swan and Richard Utz (2003); In Arn’s Footsteps: Follow Jan Guillou’s Temple Knight Round Västra Götaland, Sweden by Anja Praesto and Marita Sjölin (2002); I Arns fotspår by Lennart Utgren, Dick Harrison, Bo Södervall, Kaj Wistbacka (2002); Hjältarna på Fagerhult by Pär Lorentzon (1993)  

Selected works:

  • Om kriget kommer, 1971
  • Det stora avslöjandet, 1974
    - Suuri paljastus (suom. Arvi Tamminen, 2004)
  • Journalistik, 1976
  • Irak - det nya Arabien, 1977 (med Marina Stagh)
  • Artister: intervjuer och porträtt, 1979 (med Jan Håkan Dahlström)
  • Reporter, 1979
  • Ondskan, 1981
    - Pahuus (suom. Veijo Kiuru, 1996)
  • Berättelser från det Nya Riket, 1982 (med Göran Skytte)
  • Justitiemord: fallet Keith Cederholm, 1983
  • Nya berättelser, 1984 (med Göran Skytte)
  • Coq Rouge: berättelsen om en svensk spion, 1986
    - Coq Rouge: kertomus ruotsalaisesta vakoojasta (suom. Veijo Kiuru, 1987)
  • Den demokratiske terroristen, 1987
  • I nationens intresse, 1988
    - Mies Kalingradista (Leevi Lehto, 1991)
  • Fiendens fiende, 1989
    - Ulkoisen vaaran uhatessa (suom. Liisa Ryömä, 1992)
  •  Reporter, 1989 (rev. ed.)
  • Åsikter, 1990
  • Den hedervärde mördaren, 1990
  • Gudarnas Berg, 1990
  • Stora machoboken, 1991 (med Pär Lorentzon and Leif G. Persson)
  • Vendetta, 1991
  • Grabbarnas stora presentbok, 1992 (med Leif G.W. Persson)
  • Ingen mans land, 1992
    - Ei kenenkään maa (Leena Vallisaari, 1993)
  • Den enda segern, 1993
  • I hennes majestäts tjänst, 1994
  • En medborgare höjd över varje misstanke, 1995
  • Hamlon: en skiss till en möjlig fortsättning, 1995
  • Om jakt och jägare: från Fagerhult till Sibirien , 1996 (med Leif G.W. Persson)
  • Svenskarna, invandrarna och svartskallarna: mitt livs viktigaste reportage, 1996
  • Antirasistiskt lexikon, 1997 (med Jan-Ewert Strömbäck)
  • Vägen till Jerusalem, 1998
    - The Road to Jerusalem: Book One of the Crusades Trilogy (translated by Anna Paterson, 2002; Steven T. Murray, 2009)
    - Tie Jerusalemiin (suom. Tapio Koivukari, 2000)
  • Tempelriddaren, 1999
    - Templar Knight: Book Two of the Crusades Trilogy (translated by Steven T. Murray, 2010)
    - Temppeliherra (suom. Tapio Koivukari, 2001)
  • Riket vid vägens slut, 2000
    - Birth of the Kingdom: Book Three of the Crusades Trilogy (translated by Steven T. Murray, 2011)
    - Pohjoinen valtakunta (suom. Pirkko Talvio-Jaatinen, 2002)
  • Talismanen, 2001 (television series; with Henning Mankell)
  • Arvet efter Arn, 2001
    - Arnin perintö (suom. Arvi Tamminen, 2003)
  • Häxornas försvarare, 2002
    - Noitien asianajaja (suom. Tapio Koivukari, 2004)
  • Tjuvarnas marknad, 2004
    - Varkaiden markkinat (suom. Tuula Tuuva, 2005)
  • Madame Terror, 2006
    - Madame Terror (suom. Kari Koski, 2007)
  • Fienden inom oss, 2007
    - Uinuva uhka (suomentanut Salla Simukka, 2008)
  • Men inte om det gäller din dotter, 2008
    - Tyttäresi tähden (suom. Leena Peltomaa, 2009)
  • Ordets makt och vanmakt: mitt skrivande liv, 2009
  • Liv och död i Stockholm: promenader till platser för omskakande mord på Norrmalm, 2009
  • Brobyggarna, 2010 (Det stora århundradet 1) [The Bridge Builders]
    - Sillanrakentajat: Suuri vuosisata I (suom. Taina Rönkkö, 2012)
  • Dandy, 2012 (Det stora århundradet 2)
    - Keikari: Suuri vuosisata II (suomentanut Taina Rönkkö, 2013)
  • Mellan rött och svart, 2013 (Det stora århundradet 3)
    - Punaisen ja mustan välissä: Suuri vuosisata III (suomentanut Taina Rönkkö, 2014)
  • Att inte vilja se, 2014 (Det stora århundradet 4)
    -  Sokea piste: Suuri vuosisata IV (suomentanut Taina Rönkkö, 2016)
  • Blå stjärnan, 2015 (Det stora århundradet 5)
    - Sininen tähti: Suuri vuosisata V (suomentanut Taina Rönkkö, 2016)
  • Äkta amerikanska jeans, 2016 (Det stora århundradet 6)
    - Made in America: Suuri vuosisata VI (suom. Petri Stenman, 2017)
  • 1968, 2017 (Det stora århundradet 7)
    -  1968: Suuri vuosisata VII (suom. Petri Stenman, 2018)
  • De som dödar drömmar sover aldrig, 2018 (Det stora århundradet 8)
    - Tapetut unelmat (suom. Petri Stenman, 2019)
  • Den andra dödssynden, 2019 (Det stora århundradet 9)

In Association with

Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. 2008-2018.

Creative Commons License
Authors' Calendar jonka tekijä on Petri Liukkonen on lisensoitu Creative Commons Nimeä-Epäkaupallinen-Ei muutettuja teoksia 1.0 Suomi (Finland) lisenssillä.
May be used for non-commercial purposes. The author must be mentioned. The text may not be altered in any way (e.g. by translation). Click on the logo above for information.