Saturday, March 5, 2011

Three Seconds

by Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström
Published by SilverOak

The Swedish crime novel has become a very popular subset of the genre, the biggest example being the explosive “Millennium” series by Stieg Larson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Perhaps it’s the perfect combination of grey winter skies and existential angst that work together to create effective dark psychological fiction, a Bergman-noir effect that calls to English-speaking audiences looking for something other than harried “too-old-for-this-shit” police officers or jaded private eyes. The award-winning duo of Roslund and Hellström has created a bleak, psychologically complex novel that explores the theme of “only a thief can catch a thief” while also being a well-plotted and suspenseful thriller.

Piet Hoffman is a former thief who has been working for the past ten years with the police to infiltrate and bring down the operations of the Polish mafia in Sweden. Only a handful of officials know of his existence and his true mission; in fact, his official record has been manufactured perfectly to substantiate his cover. But after a drug deal goes badly and another police informant is murdered, Piet takes on his most dangerous assignment: he is to be arrested and incarcerated in a maximum security facility in order to begin, and then crush, the mafia’s extensive prison drug operations.

At the same time, Detective Inspector Ewart Grens is assigned the case of a drug related murder in a Swedish apartment. His tenacity brings him to a security consultant with a long record of violent crimes named Piet Hoffman; a man who is now holding a warden and a fellow inmate hostage in a prison workshop. Grens continues to investigate and uncovers the string of high-level government secrets that put Hoffman in this situation, even as he must decide whether or not Hoffman must die to protect the lives of his hostages.

Roslund and Hellström have built two intriguing characters with Hoffman and Grens. Their contrasting personalities are the two pillars on which the plot is supported. Piet is an extremely sympathetic character, forced to display a cold demeanor even as he plans and executes dangerous and brutal actions in order to survive. Grens explodes in anger at ineptitude and deception, hiding the coldness of his soul after the death of his wife. The narrative also shines during the passages describing Piet’s time in prison, perfectly capturing the claustrophobic and deadly world behind the bars. Nevertheless, the novel suffers from too many other passages bogging down in repetition, from comma-heavy punctuation choices, and from too-frequent shifts of point of view. It’s difficult to determine if these problems are of translation, author intent, or editorial laxity, but all serve to confuse the reader needlessly. Despite these problems, Three Seconds is still an enjoyable read and a decent diversion from the usual suspense bill of fare.

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Reviewed by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett

Shedrick Pittman-Hassett is a full-time librarian and part-time writer trying to do that the other way around. He has written reviews for Library Journal and has also had two articles published in the award-winning Knights of the Dinner Table magazine. Shedrick currently resides in Denton, Texas ("The Home of Happiness") with his lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, he can be found in a pub enjoying a fine brew.

Shedrick's website can be found here.

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