on 25 February 2011
I ordered this book because I had seen it received a Swedish Crime Writers award and, given the quality of Scandinavian crime-writing, I felt that meant it had to be good.
I found the initial chapters and storyline unpleasant - almost vomit-making (if you've read it you will know why) - but I persevered. The characters became increasingly intriguing and the plot decidedly complicated - just how I like it.
By a third of the way through, I was steaming through the book like a high-speed train. Every spare moment was an opportunity to read a bit more.
I definitely warmed to grumpy Ewart Grens - a typical misanthropic Scandinavian detective, but probably with good reason for his behaviour and attitude. I will be reading the earlier novels in this series.
on 24 October 2010
'Three Seconds' is Roslund and Hellstrom's third novel to be published
in English,all featuring the grumpy Detective Inspector Ewert Grens.
It was,with good reason,a huge bestseller in the authors' home country,
The plot focuses around Piet Hoffman,a police informer,who has infiltrated
Wotjek Security,which is a cover for a Polish drug-dealing operation.They
have decided to supply illegal drugs to Swedish prisoners,and Hoffman is
to get himself incarcarated in order to control the operation from the
inside.Prior to this he is a witness to a killing during a drug exchange,
which D.I.Grens-who 25 years after the event is still obsessed with the
accident and subsequent death of his female partner and colleague-
investigates.Grens enquiries are impeded by a cover-up and corruption in
This is a lengthy,exciting,well-plotted thriller,which goes into considerable
yet interesting detail regarding Hoffman's activities in his quest to stay
alive. One is ,though,left wondering as to his motivation in taking such
great risks ,especially as he has a close family.
I haven't come across this writing duo before: Roslund a journalist and Hellstrom an ex-criminal. Between them them they've created a thriller with page-turning pace. It took me a few chapters to get into the story as the narrative switches between characters with unfamiliar sounding names located in geographical locations, apart from Stockholm, which I don't recognize. Rather like when I started to read Henning Mankell or Stieg Larsson novels, but like those books I soon got the hang of things.
Three Seconds is an extraordinary story about the lengths that the authorities might go to in order to undermine the criminal gangs from abroad who evidently dominate the supply of drugs to Scandinavia. The amount of convincing detail about how the gangs operate and the covert operations employed against them kept reminding me of Frederick Forsyth's writing who similarly gives his thrillers authenticity by inclusion of meticulously researched detail. As with Forsyth's books, women are largely absent; scenery, weather and surrounding are minimally referred to; and characters are not fleshed out by a lot of description but are there to carry-out the inventive story. The style of writing is economical without superfluous adjectives and natural flow must owe a lot to the translator. I would say it's more a man's book than a woman's, but I did enjoy it and thought it worthy Winner of Swedish Crime novel of the year.
on 6 December 2010
Piet Hoffman, Swedish undercover police informer, has climbed very high in the ranks of the Polish Mafia when he helplessly witnesses a murder during a drug deal gone terribly wrong. While Inspector Ewert Grens investigates the murder, Hoffman's Mafia masters want him in prison to take over drug operations there. A secret arm of the law agrees, and offers him and his family protection and new identities for breaking the drug operations of the Mafia in the Swedish prison system. But they reckoned without the indefatigable Grens, intent on solving his case all unaware of the secret agenda.
This stunningly well-written police procedural meets thriller meets psychological suspense novel succeeds in all three genres. At times the suspense was so well drawn, and had so drawn me in, that I had to put the book aside for awhile to regain my composure. Only Alfred Hitchcock had managed that previously. The details of the drug trade in the early chapters, while distressing to read, nonetheless set the story up perfectly.
This is the first book I have read by these authors, and I was very impressed. Definitely worth finding the earlier books and following the series in future.
on 16 November 2011
I don't know if my review counts for much, Three Seconds is not the kind of book women are allegedly drawn to, but then I'm not a woman who's drawn to the type of books women are allegedly drawn to, if you see what I mean?
Very much written in the style of one of my favourite author Gerald Seymour, Three Seconds is a page turner, full of suspense , an excellent gripping read.
on 22 November 2010
FACTS: Sweden is a nation of laws and rights. Criminal organizations profit from illegal trade -- drug distribution being one. Swedish prisons are underfunded, understaffed. Drugged inmates are easier -- cheaper -- to control. Police supervisory authority believes conventional intelligence methods are insufficient to combat organized crime. To infiltrate criminal organizations, the police need spies. Swedish police cannot engage in criminal activity. Only real criminals can pose as criminals.
How far will criminal organizations go to kill a snitch?
How far will police authority go to deny it employs criminals?
What must a man -- caught in the middle -- do to survive, to "not die yet"?
THREE SECONDS provides the explosive answers in a taut human drama set in the limbo of Swedish law versus Swedish need.
A relentless nerve-wracking police thriller right up there with DAY OF THE JACKAL and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. One of the best books I've read -- ever.
'Three Seconds' by the two Swedish writers, Andres Roslund and Börge Hellström, is nothing if not authentic. In this excellent translation by Kari Dickson we are offered well over 600 pages at the end of which the reader knows all about smuggling drugs into prison, why it is inadvisable for a drug mule to be lactose intolerant, the world's smallest gun and its lethality, assorted criminality and police and surveillance techniques, tulips and some Polish phrases that are probably not ones to use on the next visit to Warsaw.
Roslund and Hellström are in from same mould as Sjöwall and Wahlöö in that their books highlight the complex interrelationships between society and criminal activity. This is unsurprising given that Roslund is a former television news reporter specializing in crime and social issues, and Börge Hellström an ex-convict and founder of a Swedish organisation that supports prisoners' re-entry into society.
Piet Hoffmann has been working undercover for a decade with the aim of closing down a drug smuggling ring, operating from Poland by Wojtek International, a Warsaw security firm with Mafia ties. At the start of the novel a man is killed in Stockholm during the arranged purchase of 30kg of amphetamine. The resulting police investigation could imperil Hoffmann's work, now on the point of success, that requires him to be arrested and imprisoned in Aspsås maximum security facility to ensure that Wojtek can take over the supply of drugs in Sweden's prisons. If the investigation were not to make any progress, however, .....
We meet Hoffmann's family, his handler, Erik Wilson, and Ewert Grens the dogged policeman who is leading the investigation and feels that something is not quite right. None of this is novel, of course, but what removes this book from the ordinary it is detail, its tension and its differing perspectives on the action and complexities of the intersecting police and criminal story elements.
This is the first novel by these authors that I have read and Grens has obviously a very detailed backstory [recounted in the book variously called `Box 21' or `The Vault']. Without the benefit of this background, he comes across as a very morose and bizarre, if not certifiable, individual who could be the stock dogged investigator [`His back was as sore as it usually was after sleeping on the sofa, his stiff leg ached when it reached the floor. He was slowly falling to bits, one day at a time, fifty-nine-year -old men who exercised too little and ate too much generally did.']. That he does not is largely due to a plot device that allows him to come into his own in the last quarter of the book, but by then this reader was already riveted.
The authors intertwine stories that focus on Hoffmann's family, police corruption, prison life, drug smuggling, lack of trust between police teams and criminal gangs. These are all very tightly controlled and presented in chapters that vary in length, are intercut into different stories and viewpoints, and frequently include staccato sentences and paragraphs. This adds to the heightened pace of the stories. The early part of the book is rather slow but this changes before long and, once Hoffmann is imprisoned at Aspsås, the pace becomes frenetic and, eventually, involves a magnificent twist.
The characters mostly stood up to scrutiny although Hoffmann's wife, Zofia, is depressingly two-dimensional. However, it is the interactions of the characters one with another that is every bit as important as their descriptions. At a different level, `Three Seconds' is about individual and corporate responsibility and its avoidance.
The book ends with brief explanations about the organisations involved in a story that is bleak in the extreme. The book is part crime drama, part conspiracy and in its latter stages, part detective story. Inevitably there were instances that jarred, one being a key meeting between Winter and Grens' deputy in a restaurant and involves the pair shouting across the room at one another. But these are minor spots on a polished book that won the authors the Best Swedish Crime Award in 2009.
It would be wrong to suggest that the book might not be better edited to lose a few pages and remove instances of over-elaboration. However, it is highly recommended as are earlier books in the series that, to avoid the problem that I had with Grens, should be read in order.