Two soldiers, by Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström

Two 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!

After 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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