This book won the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award in 2009 for Best Swedish Crime Novel of the year. The story takes you deep into the world of undercover police in Sweden, as informant and ex-con Piet Hoffmann tries to penetrate the innermost reaches of the Polish drug dealing mafia by doing work for the mafiosos and gaining their confidence.
Most unfortunately for Piet, a drug deal he set up between some Poles and a Danish undercover policeman goes wrong, and the Dane gets murdered. Piet calls it in, anonymously, to the Swedish police. A bulldog of a police officer, Ewert Grens, who, like most of the non-supervisory police force, is not in on the undercover program, is determined to find out who the Swede was in the room when the murder was committed.
The upper levels of Sweden’s law enforcement get concerned because they know they cannot stop Grens from doing his job, but they must not risk exposure of their use of criminals for police operations. Thus, they decide to find a way to get rid of Piet.
In the meantime, Piet has agreed to a new task from the Polish mafia – his most dangerous yet. He is to get himself arrested on a drug charge, and then help the mafia get control of drug-dealing inside a Swedish prison. Piet arranges for his police handler, Erik Wilson, to get him out in two weeks. But Erik leaves the country on assignment, and has no idea that Piet is slated for elimination by his own police hierarchy.
The prison operation is going well until Piet is deliberately “exposed” as a snitch, a deadly label, as Swedish law enforcement well knows. He is set upon by prisoners, prison guards, the Polish mafia, and even a Swedish army sniper as he desperately tries to escape them all and run to freedom.
Evaluation: While the book eventually got very exciting, I had a few complaints. It turns out that Three Seconds is just the latest in a series featuring Police Detective Ewert Grens. References to past cases and relationships are made in the story that aren’t essential but that were frustrating to me because they were not explained. Also, many of the (short) chapters begin with personal pronouns (he or she) rather than names. It sometimes takes two or three pages before you know which “he” or “she” is being talked about. I found that rather irritating and eventually just flipped ahead, learned who was the subject of the chapter, and then flipped back to read. In addition, the translation seemed awkward in places. Aside from all that, I’m not really very into drug mafias. Nevertheless, as the story progressed, the tension ratcheted up considerably, and in the end did become quite gripping.
There is definitely a verisimilitude in the many-stranded plot not shared by a lot of suspense writers. Of the authors, Roslund is a journalist who worked for many years covering prisons, and Hellström is a reformed ex-criminal. (Hellstrom confesses to an intimate knowledge of the amphetamine trade as well, blaming it on his “messy youth” in an interview.) The two of them spent eight months doing further research to make sure they got it right.
This book is gritty, violent, and unnerving. It also seems quite realistic, and occasionally riveting. If a movie were made from this book (and I can’t imagine it not getting optioned), it would be grim and quite brutal, but would have you at the edge of your seat.
Published in the U.S. by SilverOak, 2011
Barry Award Nominee for Best British Crime Novel (2011)
Glass Key Award Nominee (2010)
The Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger (2011)