four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-Three SecondsAnders Roslund, a former television journalist, and Börge Hellström, an ex-convict, met while Roslund was filming a documentary on Hellström's organization, KRIS (Criminals Return into Society). Together they have written five novels--best sellers in their native Sweden--and have won the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year in 2009 for Three Seconds, the fifth installment in the series.

The Story: Ex-con and undercover operative Piet Hoffman has spent the last several years far from his young family, posing as a drug trafficker to infiltrate the Polish Mafia for the Swedish police. Having uncovered the Mafia's plot to gain control of the prison drug trade, Hoffman agrees to one last job masquerading as an inmate in one of Sweden's most notorious maximum-security penitentiaries. But a murder committed during a bungled drug deal leads Detective Inspector Ewert Grens directly to Hoffman, and Grens, unaware of Hoffman's mission, nearly exposes Hoffman's identity. Abruptly abandoned by his handler and eyed suspiciously by the other prisoners, Hoffman soon finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
SilverOak. 496 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9781402785924

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Hoffman's fractured life makes him a compelling figure: a fake drug baron who is also a fake in his attempts to be an ‘ordinary' husband and father who (supposedly) manages a private security firm. [The British publisher] Quercus has high hopes for Three Seconds--justifiably so. The translation by Kari Dickson is superb." John O'Connell

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"The first third of the book may be andante but thereafter, the tempo is firmly allegro. R & H have even managed to freight in some cogent aperçus about the nature of identity amid the clammy suspense. Three Seconds is no dumbed-down blockbuster." Barry Forshaw

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Some of the local Swedish jargon can be hard to follow, and knowledge of Swedish prisons and politics is needed to navigate the story clearly. However, the action quickly draws you in and continues to grip you to the final chapters of the novel." Summer Moore

Richmond Times-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"Scandinavian gloom--ever present in these books--fits neatly with the noir ethos. And Roslund and Hellström's portrait of prison life ratchets up the gloom-and-blight meter a few notches." Doug Childers

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Roslund & Hellström pull out all the stops, peppering the story with unfathomable mysteries. ... Gun play, explosions, betrayals and the ingenious ways drugs and weapons are smuggled into prisons give this novel, Roslund & Hellström's fifth, an eau de testosterone level that's through the roof." Carol Memmott

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Fans of the genre are more apt to appreciate the devilishness of such plot details than the tiresome, vaguely flawed character development that comes with them. ... Certainly something will be lost on those who, in reading Three Seconds, are entering the authors' Ewert Grens series in midstream." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Hoffmann is cynically betrayed by the top police brass and maneuvered into a thrill-a-minute cat-and-mouse game with his merciless mob associates. But the real threat comes from an incorruptible police inspector whose unrelenting pursuit compromises the entire operation--even as this old-school cop supplies the only moral ballast in a grimly amoral tale." Marilyn Stasio

Critical Summary

In this superb translation, Sweden's latest contribution to crime writing tackles some weighty subjects--specifically, the nature of identity, the Swedish police force's use of civilians in its operations, and the safekeeping of its prisoners--as it twists, turns, and hurdles towards its conclusion. Despite the intensity of its finale, however, Three Seconds is a novel to be savored, its multifaceted story line leisurely unfurling over the first 200 pages. The critics diverged over the novel's characters-- "complex" (USA Today) or "tiresome [and] vaguely flawed" (New York Times)--but most agreed that Roslund and Hellström's gritty material, graphic style, and ingenious plotting combine to make Three Seconds a gripping, intelligent, and, above all, worthy successor to the works of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.

First in the Series

The Beast (2004): When a convicted child murderer escapes from prison and resumes his terrible rampage, a grieving father will take the law into his own hands--with disastrous consequences.