"Easy Money" is a debut crime novel from Jens Lapidus, billed as one of Sweden's most successful criminal defense lawyers, and, on the basis of this book, one of the best acquainted with Stockholm's underworld. It's a new entry in the sweepstakes to follow the phenomenal international success of Stieg Larsson, the superb Scandinavian thriller author, who gave us The Millennium Trilogy
before his untimely death. EASY MONEY has received high praise from various Euro critics and high praise indeed from James Ellroy, one of the deans of hard-boiled American mysteries, who wrote, "At last, an epic European thriller to rival the Stieg Larsson books. It's an entirely new criminal world, beautifully rendered - and a wildly thrilling novel."
Lapidus's novel is set in Stockholm's underworld, where cocaine rules, and is told from the perspective of its mob bosses, patsies and thugs. It centers on three men. JW is of humble rural stock, but has managed to crash a rich, chic party crowd: now, if only he had the money to run freely with them. When he's offered the chance to sell cocaine to this crowd, he grabs it. Jorge, a young drug dealer of Chilean origin, has just succeeded in a celebrated breakout from jail, and wants revenge against those who put him there. JW's boss is anxious to recruit Jorge to widen his territory, and sets JW on the Latino's trail. But so is Mrado, brutal muscle in the high on the food chain Yugoslav gang that put Jorge inside in the first place. These three anti-heroes combine and recombine, all seeking their places in the sun.
The novel is written in a language slangy, fast-paced, and telegraphic enough to rival Ellroy's. But, whereas I, like many Americans, have some familiarity with Los Angeles, where Ellroy sets his work, I know very little about Sweden, Yugoslavia, or Chile, and I didn't always know what Lapidus was talking about. Lapidus's writing or perhaps his translator's also has an odd tic: over and over, often several times in a page, he uses a clumsy contraction that I'm not sure exists in English: "Jorge'd,"for, I gather, "Jorge had." This set me into mental gymnastics every time, as I was busy remembering the Latin pronunciation of "Jorge," and then I had to tag the "'d" on its end. A true mental tongue-twister. Furthermore, I found the book to be testosterone-soaked: in its pages, women exist solely for sex and the delivery of children. It often reminded me that the first, Swedish title of Larsson's first book, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. It sometimes seemed to me that I kept reading this long book only because it had opened on a woman's abuse, and I was anxious to find out what had become of her; information that wasn't shared until nearly the end of the book's more than 450 pages. However, the book does finally arrive at a fairly exciting, powerful conclusion.
Come to Scandinavian mysteries, I go back beyond the Martin Beck Mystery Series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Lapidus has got something here, but I'm not sure what. However, I would be willing to give him another try.