Three Seconds

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Three Seconds By Anders Roslund, By Borge Hellstrom, book reviewWith 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.

“Highly recommended. (And so much more readable than Stieg Larsson!)”

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!)

Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
Published by Quercus Books, September 2010
Thanks to Quercus Books for providing a free review copy.

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Three Seconds
by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellström

2 Comments on "Three Seconds"

  1. Susie
    05/12/2010 at 22:10 Permalink


    I enjoyed your review on Three Seconds. I’m a huge fan of Roslund & Helstom and even had the pleasure of meeting them at the Bouchercon Mystery convention last October. They’re great guys.

    The Beast and Box 21 are outstanding books, but don’t expect them to be like Three Seconds, they aren’t.

    Anders Roslund is a journalist, I wasn’t aware he’s had any affiliation with the police. Borge Helstrom works with kids to rehabilitate them from drug abuse.

    I look forward to your reviews for The Beast and Box 21.



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