Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Three Seconds

Three Seconds, by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, is a Swedish crime mystery being released today in the U.S. in a new English translation by Kari Dickson. I was sent an advance copy by Katrina Alvarez, marketing director for the digital agency Wiredset, who is also providing two copies for the giveaway.

The winners of the giveaway, chosen by Random.org, are:
(comment#2) FreshHell
(comment#5) ReadersGuide
Congratulations! I'll be providing your addresses to Ms Alvarez, who will be sending you a copy of the book directly.

So what kind of mystery is this? I'd call it gritty; I learned all kinds of things I had no idea about that are evidently true, according to the authors' appendix at the end of the novel. Realistic details are part of the appeal of the novel; the book jacket identifies Anders Roslund as an "award-winning journalist" and Borge Hellstrom as an "ex-criminal." Here's an example of something I didn't know: amphetamine, evidently a popular drug in prisons, can be processed with and hidden inside tulip buds.

The protagonist of the novel, a secret operative named Piet, murmurs to himself a seemingly lovely but puzzling line about how he loves poetry and tulips, before it turn out that he uses the tulips for drugs and he doesn't read the poetry, but uses little-read library books to smuggle drugs and gun parts into a prison.

The real interest of the novel is taking the little bits and pieces of the mystery and trying to put them together to figure out what Piet is going to do before he does it. I failed. I had no idea what he was planning most of the time, especially the elaborate set-up with "the barrel of diesel and the window" in a prison workshop. The title doesn't turn out to be much of a clue, by the way.

The plot has to do with corruption of the police force in Sweden, a topic that isn't going to carry the interest of an American reader very far unless she assumes that cops are much the same everywhere:
"This damned system....Criminals working for the police. Criminals' own crimes being covered up and downplayed. One crime is legitimized so that another one can be investigated. Policemen who lie and withhold the truth from other policemen. Damn it...in a democratic society."

The ending, in which Piet's story finally dovetails with the story of Ewert, a murder cop, is extremely satisfying, and the mystery is entertainingly complex. But the characters are quickly sketched, for the most part, and most of them are full of gratuitous angst. The writing is workmanlike and spare:
"The strong sunlight had become uncomfortably warm and made his jacket itch on his neck and his shoes feel too tight....Piet Hoffman had a dry mouth and swallowed what should have been saliva, but now was anxiety and fear."
These depictions of the Swedish spring sunlight and Piet's fear are so baldly stated that there's not a lot of room later to enlarge the description to evoke the even hotter sunshine of an Atlanta summer and the extremes of fear that the protagonist feels as his predicament worsens. He's got a dry mouth for the entire length of the novel!

If you like excitement, read this one fast. That's one clue the title does provide.


Anonymous said...

I think this one might work really well for the Nordic Challenge? I unfortunately do not read crime for the stupid reason of trying to avoid nightmares, but it sounds like a nice read.

FreshHell said...

Whoo! This sounds really good (though I'll admit I kind of skimmed part of it for fear of spoilers). Can't wait to receive it!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I definitely would use the word gritty as well!

Jeanne said...

Iris, I also avoid some kinds of fiction (horror) because of being prone to nightmares. This one was a bit depressing until the ending, which was just to my taste (I'm a big fan of multiple happy endings). The authors have been compared to Stieg Larsson, but I think he was a better writer.

FreshHell, congratulations! I do make an effort to avoid spoiling any of the secrets for a mystery novel.

Rhapsodyinbooks, glad you agree. I think we could reasonably compare the feel of this book to the way an asphalt street looks at the edges a week after a big snow has melted.

Anonymous said...

Hooray! I'm excited about this!

Jeanne said...

Readersguide, congratulations! Maybe it will give you a taste of what it's like to live in colder parts of the world.

Anonymous said...

You know I am always interested in those colder parts . . .