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Author: Roslund and Hellström

Title: Three Seconds

Publisher: Quercus

Hardback: 501 pages

ISBN: 978-1-84916-150-3

Price: £14.99

Publication Date: 30/09/2010


As dynamic duos go, Swedish crime fiction sensations Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström make an intriguing pair. Roslund is a journalist and criminologist, whilst Hellström is an ex-convict turned anti-crime campaigner. Together their novels have taken Sweden by storm and Three Seconds won the 2009 award for the Best Swedish Crime Novel. It’s a lot of hype to live up to, but I have to say that it is completely justified – Three Seconds is a brilliant read.

The central protagonist of the book is Piet Hoffmann, an ex-con and former drug addict turned undercover operative. Piet has managed to infiltrate himself deep into the Polish mafia’s drug-dealing operation in Sweden. But when he is linked to a drug deal gone badly wrong, the Ministry of Justice decides that covering-up his involvement is vital. For the cartel has decided to expand their reach into the lucrative Swedish prison system and picked Piet to make it happen. If he is successful then he may be able to expose the mysterious mafia leaders and bring down the organization. But Piet must work quickly, for every moment is one when he could be ‘burnt’ [or exposed – either by his own mistakes or someone selling him out], something that becomes infinitely more likely when Ewert Grens – a detective who never gives up [that crime fiction staple] – begins investigating the drug-deal murder.

One of the major themes running through the novel is the uncertainty of how we define a criminal. Piet deals drugs and is not afraid to use violence [and even commits murder], but it is done with the end goal of destroying something evil. The question becomes, does the end justify the means? And the fact that Piet has so much to lose if everything goes wrong [he has a wife and children who know nothing of his ‘work’] makes his situation all the more compelling and gives it a more human angle. You are constantly aware that at any moment it could all come crashing down.

The novel itself starts slowly, with the first third involving meticulous explanations on how drugs are smuggled, cut and distributed and how criminal enterprises operate. This is all completely fascinating and you know that the authors have an incredible knowledge of the subject matter. However, it’s in the final two-thirds that the novel turns into a pulsating, amazing read. As soon as Piet is incarcerated the pace explodes and the novel becomes clammily claustrophobic and, much like the drug that Piet is peddling, completely addictive.

Kari Dickson’s translation is exemplary, but I did notice early in the book that there seemed to be two ‘styles’ of prose – one descriptive, the other more staccato and sparse. I’m not really sure whether this is the result of having two authors or whether it was intended, but I should point out that I only really noticed it in the first third of the novel. For, once the book gets into its stride, its milieu of corruption, political machinations, fear and violence is utterly brilliant and the prose style is the last thing on your mind. Without doubt one of the best crime-thrillers I have read this year.
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