Adrenaline-fuelled action

2011-07-27 00:00

PUT aside quite a few hours of your life when you start Three Seconds, an addictive thriller that has deservedly won Sweden’s main crime ­fiction award.

The novel is a meaty tome about a man who is an informer for the police force. So far, so clichéd, one might think. Actually not: the book rises above this somewhat predictable plot by its strange mixture of adrenaline-fuelled action, its magnetically depressive wreck of a police officer, and by attention to many fascinating if horrible details of how drug smuggling and dealing are carried out, how the prison is infiltrated, how the informer plans to escape, and so on. An added impetus for the reader is that everything is always going wrong, so one never knows what’s going to happen next.

Mainly, though, the book has two elements. In one, it is a great thriller, whose pace never lets up, particularly in the second half. It is full of the sort of detail that made Stieg Larsson so popular. The other element, again with echoes of Larsson, is the political corrup- tion of the national police force in Sweden, and the ministry of justice responsible for its oversight.

The authors are clearly on the campaign trail here, and occasionally their convictions overwhelm the plot. But the two elements combine to make a heady mix that is very exciting to read.

Three Seconds invites comparison with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

There is the same obsessive detail, the same corruption of the authorities, and even Larsson’s tactic of the slow introductory chapters that suddenly shift into a higher gear. But Roslund and Hellström are very much their own men. The first third of the book may be andante but thereafter, the tempo is firmly allegro. The authors have even managed to freight in some cogent aperçu about the nature of identity amid the clammy suspense.

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