Two soldiers Roslund HellstromTwo soldiers is the fifth novel by the Swedish award winning duo Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström translated into English. Roslund & Hellstrom is an interesting duo. Anders Roslund is a journalist and criminologist, while Börge Hellström is a former criminal who now works in crime prevention. And, of course, they both write. But it’s not only the background that makes them interesting: It is also that they tend to deal with more «real», important, and pressing social problems than most other crime fiction writers, and with more emphasis on presenting the point of view of the criminals than what is common in the genre.

In previous books Roslund and Hellström have dealt with trafficking, the problems involved in using police informers, and similar issues. This book, set in Sweden, also deals with a very tough, very important social issue, namely the dynamics of youth gangs.

In the book we meet a group of gang members as well as other significant people in the suburb of Råby in Southern Stockholm. The gang is headed by Gabriel and Leon (the two soldiers of the title), now veterans eighteen years old that have traded drugs, and stolen and terrorized the community since before they became teenagers. Over time they have built an ecosystem of helpers – kids selling drugs, hang-arounds wanting to become members of the gang, gang members – and gradually increased their power. They started out calling themselves Råby Warriors. As we met them, they are in the process of transforming their operations in preparation for entering the big league: Råby Warriors are about to become Ghetto Soldiers!

To these guys violence isn’t something that is an unfortunate byproduct of their «business». Rather, it is an integral part of their business: violence, terror, and havoc all play an important part in the branding process. The more violence and the more destruction, the greater the notoriety.

The young men in this book know very little of love, they have very little if any compassion, they don’t care much about others and really not too much even about themselves. What they care about is respect and belonging. And their goal is to get to the top of the list where gangs are rated in terms of their dangerousness! So, ironically, the list the police use to keep track of and prioritize their work with the gangs actually motivates violence, as the gangs compete for position on the list and are willing to do virtually anything to get to the very top!

Anders Roslund & Börge HellströmAfter the gang has engineered a simultaneous breakout of several high-security prisons, and taken a female corrections officer as hostage, Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens and his people get involved in the case of Gabriel and Leon and their gang in the horrible suburb of Raby. As it turns out, Ewald Grens, the strange loner, has a history with one of the boys. A strange, peculiar story that goes one generation back in time. Partly because of this, he is one of the very few people who understands how serious a threat this gang is to public safety, and how urgently important it is to stop them. But can he thwart the simple but ingenious scheme set in motion by the two young socio/psycho-paths and their followers – their Ghetto Soldiers?

Two soldiers is a frightening story of young asocial kids living outside normal society without any allegiance except to their “family” – their gang. It is a story of a brutal world where children have special value because they cannot be charged and punished for running drugs, guns and stolen property. A world where institutions we have set in place to protect kids have become reasons to exploit them. And a world where constant terror, burning of cars and property, violence, robberies and other forms of crime result in gradual removal of services, shops, and even protection from the police from huge suburban areas. This book relentlessly feeds readers with horrendous facts, making it a tough book to read.

Two soldiers is a difficult but intense and thought-provoking read. It tells stories about extreme marginalization that we perhaps need to hear, with a strong, insistent and what feels like an authentic voice. While it is entertaining and suspenseful, it’s also more than just good entertainment.

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We are in Sweden. It is summer. It’s beautiful, life is easy. A young couple is vacationing in a remote farmhouse. Beth and Ulf. A teacher, a journalist. They are alone, in love. The strawberries are in season, the wine is good, the sun shines. Life is so good it can’t get much better.

Cat Did Not Die by FrimanssonThen, a stranger enters the scene. At the wrong time, looking the wrong way; a bit scary. Beth reacts quickly. Overreacts, actually. And kills the man with her axe. There is blood everywhere. And a body. The body of an unknown man. A cat is looking at them. Now what?

Beth and Ulf start on their way to self-destruction. Bad decisions followed by poor choices. Mostly choices driven by their preference to avoid pain, problems and complications. Their life had so far been nice, orderly, and pretty. They would very much like it to continue to be nice, orderly, and pretty. Why should something that happened in a matter of seconds, something meaningless, odd, so totally not them, not at all what they wanted, be allowed to impact their life? They bury the body behind the farmhouse. So, no body, no problem…right?

Inger Frimansson is a wonderful writer and a master of the psychological thriller genre. In The Cat Did Not Die we once again meet a seemingly harmonious idyll where something awful accidentally enters and then completely pollutes it. A new, morbid, odd, twisted reality increasingly replaces the harmony, wiggles its way to the front, and imprisons the actors in a drama where the choices become increasingly restrained.

Frimansson writes in a clear, concise, suggestive and understated style. She is a bestselling author in Scandinavia, and has received the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers Award for Best Mystery for Good Night, My Darling and for The Shadow in the Water. She is very skillful at building tension. In The Cat Did Not Die she also – as in some of her other books – uses the cat as an omen, a symbol, to great effect.

The Cat Did Not Die is both interesting and entertaining, masterfully illuminating the doom that can sometimes reside in the smallest of details and gradually, but ever so carefully, grow its destructive influence. It is a masterful crime fiction novel by Frimansson – one of Scandinavia’s best pens.

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Nordic Noir ForshawNordic Noir is fittingly subtitled The Pocket Essential Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film and TV. So it is pretty wide – Nordic Noir in all media. It is an interesting book for people who love Scandinavian crime fiction or who wants to get an overview of what is going on in there. I consider it a useful handbook.

It is divided into eight chapters: 1. Beginning: Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s Martin Beck Series, 2. Sweden’s Trojan Horse: Kurt Wallander, 3. Lisbeth Salander’s Legacy, 4. Larsson’s Rivals, 5. The New King: Jo Nesbo and Other Norwegians, 6. Dark Nights in Iceland and Finland, 7. Darkness in Denmark, 8. The Nordic Screen: Film and TV Adaptations. In addition to an Introduction, an Epilogue (Some Names to Watch For), three Appendices: Top Twenty Nordic Noir Novels, Top Six Noir Films, and Top Six Noir TV Dramas, plus an Index.

Barry Forshaw, the author, is a British journalist working with Scandinavian crime fiction, and the book shows that. It contains a variety of types of information from a variety of sources: notes, reviews, observations, conversations with authors and translators, small stories, background information, gossip, insights from the publishing business. It is a little of this, a little of that, sort of semi-organized, loosely structured; somehow held together by the loose organizing principles visible in the list of chapters: a little chronology, a little geography basically. The result is interesting, useful and information-packed.

In the end what is expressed in Nordic Noir are the views of Barry Forshaw: both in the content and in the organization. I agree with some of them, I think others are quite odd. For instance: He spends pages on Sara Blaedel (uninteresting, largely unknown except in Scandinavia and abroad), but barely mentions Leif GW Persson – literally a pop star among crime writers in Sweden, best-selling throughout Scandinavia, several prizes. I don’t know or understand why? Maybe Forshaw has met Blaedel and likes her? Who knows?

Despite oddities, some factual errors here and there, and despite the fact that Forshaw seemingly doesn’t read in any of the Scandinavian languages but relies on secondary sources a lot, it is still quite an impressive and interesting book. Anglo readers interested in the Scandinavian Noir landscape will, I am sure, find Nordic Noir very intriguing and useful!

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The Ginger Bread HouseThe Gingerbread House is the first book in English by the Swedish author Carin Gerhardsen. She has a background in mathematics and has worked as a computer scientist. This novel is the first in her The Hammarby Series, which is very popular in Scandinavia and features Detective Inspector Conny Sjöberg and his group in the Stockholm police. So far five novels have been published in this series in Sweden.

The title, The Gingerbread House, sounds kind of cozy. But this is not a cozy book. Far from it, it is actually quite raw and brutal. In the novel Gerhardsen lets loose a murderer with deep psychological scars from childhood abuse. In a very short span of time, several bestial murders take place in Stockholm. Soon it becomes clear that there is a serial killer out there. Are the murders completely random, or is there some common factor that links the victims to one another?

The story in this wonderful crime fiction novel is scary and brutal, but even so it is quite believable. It is well-told and in many ways evocative. It explores the uninhibited cruelty of children and the deep wounds thoughtless acts may create, and how such scars over time may grow and take possession of even grown-up minds when the conditions are right. Gerhardsen is a great observer and her descriptions are almost too good and to the point. Her characters are very authentic and interesting.

I enjoyed reading The Gingerbread House. It made me think, was entertaining, quite suspenseful and had some plot twists that completely surprised me. I liked Detective Inspector Conny Sjöberg and his team, and will be looking forward to the next book in this series!

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Helsinki Blood, by James Thompson

Even though he probably drinks more than he talks, Finnish police inspector Kari Vaara has a number of traits that make him sort of likable. Perhaps because he is concerned with justice and fairness, albeit in a twisted sort of a way? Perhaps because he thinks of himself as incorruptible and honest, even though he […]

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Night Rounds, by Helene Tursten

I am delighted to see Night Rounds (original Swedish title Nattrond, first published in 1999) finally in English translation! At the same time, I have a hard time not mentioning how strongly I dislike that English and American publishers don’t publish foreign crime fiction series in sequence. This book is actually the second book in […]

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The Killer’s Art, by Mari Jungstedt

Swedish crime fiction writer Mari Jungstedt keeps getting better and better. This is her fourth book translated into English, after Unseen, Unspoken and Unknown (A Killer’s Art is now also available in the US). The translation by Tiina Nunnally is excellent. Mari Jungstedt’s books are all set on the scenic tourist island of Gotland in […]

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Book review: Killer’s Island by Anna Jansson

Killer’s Island (original title «Drömmen förde dej vilse») is the first book in Swedish crime fiction author Anna Jansson’s series featuring the female detective Maria Wern that has been translated into English. This is somewhat odd for a couple of reasons. The first is that Killer’s Island is the 11th book in this series, which […]

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