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Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström are a Swedish crime writing duo who are relatively new to the writing scene, their first book 'Odjuret' (which translates as 'The Beast' in English) being published in 2004. They have published five books in total so far, most recently 'Three Seconds' in 2009. Their books have already become popular, as they've been translated into several other languages including English and German, and they have received much recognition for their work, such as being included on the New York Times list of Notable Crime Fiction for 2009.
Roslund has worked for many years as a news reporter and journalist in Sweden for 'Rapport News'. His writing partner, Hellström, is an ex-criminal who has turned his life around and now works on trying to prevent crime, as well as helping to rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts. It is this remarkable combination which means their writing really works, as they are able to combine realistic knowledge of cultural attitudes and life inside a prison to create gripping, intriguing storylines.
Piet Hoffman is an undercover intelligence worker, just about to make one of the biggest breakthroughs with the Polish mafia in Sweden's history. The only problem is that he has to go to prison to complete it - and once he's in there, he's on his own. What's more, not even his family knows of his secret life.
Meanwhile, a drug-related murder takes place, and DI Ewert Grens starts investigating but hits dead ends at every turn. Clutching at straws, he finds a link between Piet Hoffman and the murder, and pushes to find out how everything links together. But what he discovers is like nothing he ever imagined, and involves decisions and actions he thought he'd never have to make...
---The Verdict: Pick Up Or Put Down?---
Pick up! All in all, this book is excellently written and very enjoyable. It is the type of book that is very enjoyable as I think everyone will find something within it that they will enjoy.
Ewert Grens is a very likeable character: quirky, elderly, determined, driven, yet sensitive as he is still grieving over the loss of his wife. Personally, I can relate to him as he is very focused and hard-working and will not stop until he finds the answers he is looking for, which immediately earns him respect. However, he isn't infallible as the transition he makes whilst dealing with his grief is both touching and endearing.
Piet Hoffman is the type of character who I think we, as readers, are supposed to warm to and like, but I found him a little difficult to understand. As Grens himself muses at one point, when Hoffman has a wife and children who he loves with all his heart, how can he even consider lying to them, let alone risk losing everything? His choices seem a little far-fetched and badly thought out for me, but even still I guess it all makes for a good story.
At first the book may seem a little hard to get into. I found that in the beginning it was difficult to follow who was who (not helped by the fact that they all had fairly similar Swedish names which was a little confusing!), because as that point the goings-on were all still a little shady. However, stick with it as it won't be long until all becomes clear and it's easier to get a grip on who all the characters are.
Having said that, although you may grow to understand and remember who all the characters are and what their roles are, at times I found it quite difficult to follow who was on which side (i.e. who was supporting Hoffman and who wasn't). There was one character in particular who seemed to change his mind several times within each conversation! This became a bit frustrating but I tended to lose concentration on what he was saying in the end!
The story was very well developed and was fast-paced (sometimes maybe too much so? The characters seemed to fit an awful lot of rushing about into each day...) but you certainly won't be left bored. However, once Grens makes That Decision (you'll know it when you get there) I think the next part of the story drags on a bit and could be cut down a lot. Nevertheless, it certainly showed his persistence!
This book is very exciting and captivating, and you'll find yourself getting drawn into it to see what happens. It's not a mystery and there's not a lot of guesswork to be done, but it's still so intriguing to see how things are going to unfold. Will Hoffman complete his task? Will Grens solve the murder? Will the truth ever come out? These questions will keep those pages turning!
A large part of the story is set inside a prison, which is something I am fascinated in. I visited a prison last year and chatted with some of the prisoners, which was one of the strangest yet most interesting experiences I've ever had, so reading the descriptions of what life behind bars is like from Hellström (who also had first hand experience) just brought the whole story to life. I can't imagine spending years of my life passing time in a tiny room, without my family and fearing for my life, but thanks to Hellström the book gives insight into what it's like and how prisoners cope.
I mentioned that the beginning of the book is a little hard to follow and found myself skimming a lot of it until I got to grips with who everyone was. Well, this is the type of book that once you get into it you wish you'd paid more attention in the beginning! So, I urge you - although you might not feel like it, it's a good idea to concentrate on what goes on in the beginning as then the rest of the story will unfold more easily for you.
The fast pace of this book would make it perfect for a movie, and it seems like Roslund and Hellström wrote it with this in mind. It's full of action, intrigue, violence (although nothing too graphic or horrible), but still with a couple of touching and loving moments. I really hope they make a film out of it as it would work really well - they've even left it open so a sequel could work well too. As I said right in the beginning, there is something that everyone will like!
My review of this book comes to you with my wholehearted recommendation. There may have been a few niggles for me, but they will probably be ironed out of their writing as the pair complete more books. I have to detract a star because occasionally it was a little hard to follow who people were and what they were thinking, but overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable book. The characters were great and the plot was compelling, so much so that my mum even commented that it's the best book she's read in a long time! I'll definitely be looking out for some of their other books and I think you should too! :)
You can currently purchase a copy for £4.46 from Amazon, or £6.39 from The Book People.
With the novels of Stieg Larsson riding high in the bestsellers charts, it's hardly surprising that "Three Seconds" is being mentioned in the same breaths. It's been a long time since Swedish crime fiction enjoyed so much international success with recent output tending to emulate Henning Mankell's highly popular Wallander series of atmospheric police procedurals.
"Three Seconds" centres on Piet Hoffman, an ex-con turned police informer. He's not just any informer, though; Hoffman has managed to infiltrate the very heart of the Polish mafia's control of Sweden's illegal drugs scene which operates behind the façade of an international security firm. Following a bungled deal in which a buyer - who subsequently turns out to be on the same side as Piet but working for the Danish police - is killed, Hoffman travels to Poland to face the music. However, he is surprised to find that, rather than being exposed, he is asked to become more deeply involved when his bosses announce their intention to take control of the highly lucrative drugs scene inside Sweden's prisons. Hoffman embarks on a risky scheme to get himself imprisoned. Meanwhile, Ewert Grens, a tenacious old-school policeman, refuses to relinquish control of the investigation of the Dane and his investigations connect Hoffman to the incident; before long, his dogged insistence on pursuing the killer in spite of being advised to stop puts the whole project in jeopardy.
I'm a big fan of Scandinavian crime fiction but I couldn't get into Stieg Larsson's trilogy at all. In spite of encouragement from friends that I should keep going and that my reward would eventually come, I gave up, so the many comparisons with Larsson didn't do much to convince me that "Three Seconds" was a book I really wanted to read. I needn't have worried; "Three Seconds" had me hooked from the start. There's no long, involved set up here, you're thrown straight into the story and have to hit the ground running. The first few pages irritated slightly in that the names were coming thick and fast but once these had been absorbed and the characters gradually established, I found myself effortlessly engrossed in the murky underworld of the Swedish drugs scene.
The writing is utterly convincing, and so it should be. Authors Roslund & Hellström just happen to be a former police office and an ex-con; if anyone knows the finer details of this seedy and dangerous background, it has to be this pair. What's so impressive is that neither fine writing nor solid characterisation have been sacrificed to make room for hard-hitting authenticity. The action is at times painful but always compelling; the sense of drama is superb. The structure of short scenes was challenging at first but it's actually what keeps the story moving along at its relentless pace.
I understand that "Three Seconds" is the latest in a series that features Ewert Grens; it's a decent enough character but certainly in this story, Hoffman is the real triumph. I found him absolutely fascinating; this man doesn't just dupe his "business associates" into believing that he is something he's not, even his wife and kids believe he's just a family guy who heads a successful security company.
Behind all the action, there is an interesting critique of contemporary Sweden. This sort of story could take place almost anywhere in Europe but the authors have woven in details that really ground the book in its setting. Read between the lines and you'll quickly realise that Roslund and Hellström have plenty to say about the Swedish justice system, in particular a system in which those at the bottom suffer while the authorities go after the ones at the top.
I'm not sure how Roslund & Hellström managed to sneak by me. What I do know is that I'll be going right back to the beginning for a proper introduction. All of the novels so far have been translated into English; in the case of "Three Seconds" it's a really good job with fluent dialogue and an authentic voice, making this a highly readable novel in a genre that doesn't always work so comfortably in translation.
Highly recommended. (And so much more readable than Stieg Larsson!)
384 pages in hardback; paperback due to be released Feb 2011
Thanks to Quercus Books for providing a free review copy
This review first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk