The Designer’s Drugs: Roslund & Hellstrom: Three Seconds

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom – Three Seconds

Anno: 2009 (Translated 2010)


The writing team of Roslund & Hellstrom are being touted as the next Stieg Larsson, and I suppose that on a superficial level this holds water.  This comparison most likely spawns from the fact that Roslund & Hellstron, like Larsson, are Swedish.  Beyond that trivial point, both entities have produced high-end mystery novels which hang their plots on corruption in the halls of power.  Yet while Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy was anchored by larger than life characters dancing on the rooftops of society, plot twists around every corner, and a tendency to overuse sex and detail, Roslund & Hellstrom’s American breakthrough is a more straightforward and gritty affair.  Sure, there’s a convoluted bit of MacGyver-style engineering which results in a twist so obvious that only its intensity prevents the story from being derailed.  Yet on the whole Three Seconds is a street level cop drama even when the top-tier conspiracy sets things awry.

The main characters are Ewert Grens, a typical burned out but brilliant detective, and Piet Hoffmann, a snitch infiltrating the Polish drug trade that threatens Sweden’s shores.  Hoffmann dominates the first half of the story, in which he is ordered to set up a drug trade in the Swedish prison system.  The second half begins as that plan goes to hell, and Grens spends the rest of the story putting the pieces together.  There are few twists to be found.  Instead, the officer’s work involves simple detective work, discovering what the reader already learned from Hoffmann.

The story’s weak point is in this transition.  As Hoffmann arrives in prison, the tale is able to go in many different directions.  Yet instead of letting the plot continue to build tension and explore the prisoner’s new surroundings, Roslund & Hellstrom almost immediately explode the plan and scatter the pieces.  This is in contrast to the authors’ earlier, painstaking focus on Hoffman’s final hours as a free man and his preparations for what was to come.  Afterwards, no mention is made of the crime bosses who served as the first half’s villains, and the purpose behind Hoffmann’s mission is all but ignored, replaced by indignation towards his corrupt handlers.  The villain switch is interestingly confusing, but it’s also irritatingly confusing.

The positive result of this is that the reader must make up one’s own mind as to whether shady actions in the name of a greater good are appropriate.  Both Hoffman’s subterfuge and Grens’s search for truth are presented as noble acts, even as they fluctuate between incompatibility and interaction.  Three Seconds may have flaws, but it’s on the whole a slick thriller whose authors wisely avoid providing a moral.

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