Three seconds. The time it takes a bullet to travel the distance from point A to point B. Point A is a high-powered sniper rifle. Point B is a human head. For three more seconds, that is.
The Seconds by the Swedish crime writing duo Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström won the Swedish Crime Academy’s prize for best crime fiction novel in 2009. There were many excellent and a couple of really outstanding Swedish crime fiction novels written in 2009. This novel by the duo Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström was one of the outstanding ones.
It is an extraordinary novel. A shocking novel. A brilliantly composed novel.
The story is the tale of one Piet Hoffman – a criminal. A high ranking criminal in an international Eastern European criminal organization. He organizes the smuggling of drugs from Poland into Sweden. He speaks in short, precise, pointed sentences. He uses whatever force is necessary to get the job done. He is very, very intelligent. His life depends on respect and credibility.
It is also the story of a strange, introverted, shy, smart police detective named Evert Grens. A fellow who is very hard to like. Who lives a life of bad memories and crime. A detective who never gives up. Who may be more than he seems, and who in this case will be set-up for something he doesn’t deserve. Even if he is the kind of man nobody likes.
But Piet is something more as well. He is a very devoted husband and the father of two young sons. He loves his wife. And he adores his sons. They are the center of his universe. And, in addition he is something more. A snitch. An informer. An ex-con who for reasons unknown has been working undercover for the Stockholm police for nine years – risking his life virtually every second of those nine years. Knowing that his life would be worth nothing – knowing that if his cover was blown, or if he didn’t react the way he was supposed to, or if he said the wrong thing to the wrong person his life would be forfeited, death would be the only thing certain. His code name is “Paula.”
“Paula” has had his background fixed to give him street credibility. And he is good – actually excellent at what he does. So he has advanced quickly in the Polish mafia, and now he is given even more responsibility for the mafia. He is assigned to take over the “closed marked”. The market inside – the prison market. A big market – worth 8-9 million a day. So now he has to get himself arrested, placed in a maximum security prison, knock out the existing distribution system there, and start supplying the inmates with Polish drugs.
With a little help from the police and a little fixing of files it is possible to do this. Piet goes for it. He takes the assignment. He gets in. Then something happens – an event on the outside, a person getting too close to something that isn’t supposed to exist, to something that has to stay hidden. And so Paula is “blown”. By the police, after risking his life for them for nine years. An asset became suddenly a liability. And now Piet is no longer the hero of the Polish mafia, but a man who will be their next victim. Inside a maximum security prison. With nowhere to go, and with no friends. But suddenly with lots of enemies everywhere.
Three Seconds is among the very best crime fiction novels I have ever read. It is brilliantly plotted and moves fast along multiple inter-twined levels. It is suspenseful to the extreme – intense – and a roller-coaster ride from first to last page.
And as very good books do – along the way it raises some pertinent, important and exceedingly difficult questions in a painful way, by shining that brilliant light which art can shine on some quite unsettling facts we all know but prefer to not think too much about. This is a serious, one-of-a-kind crime fiction novel. Three Seconds is one of the best crime five fiction books in English in 2011. You can take my word for it: It is stunning.
Praise for Three Seconds:
“Americans are finally catching on to what thriller fans around the world already know — that the Swedish team of Roslund & Hellstrom is writing explosive crime novels .. ” –USA Today
“[A] sprawling and often gripping thriller…. The gritty details of drug dealing, of prison life and of the relations between cops and informants are all rendered with convincing authority.”–Wall Street Journal
“Thrill-a-minute cat and mouse game…a grimly amoral tale.” –Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
“A complex and surprising novel… A riveting story that serious readers will find worthwhile and memorable. Three Seconds hits its target. It is a tour de force.” —New York Journal of Books