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Author of the Month

Name: Roslund and Hellstrom

First Novel:

Most Recent Book: Three Seconds

'...tautly written with a spellbinding plot: you will be powerless to stop reading until the very end.'

Synopsis:
Piet Hoffmann, code name: Paula, is an informant, an ex-con given a new chance to redeem himself by placing himself in danger to bring down a huge network of the drug-pushing Polish mafia. It has been a long time, but the end appears to be in sight. And then during a drugs exchange, a supposed dealer who is an undercover policeman is shot dead. The permutations of the killing shock those involved and move quickly to bring the operation to an end before Piet is also uncovered as an informant. As Piet is placed in one of the roughest prisons in Sweden, his criminal file stating him as a scheming psychopath caught with amphetamines and having shot a policeman, as per his orders Piet begins to take out the drug competition in the prison.

Ewert Grens is a policeman of the old school – he is plodding but meticulous and overflows with a sense of justice for the victims of the cases that fall on his desk. As he investigates the shooting of a man in a flat, he discovers that the man was a policeman – a man undercover who failed his task. As Ewert digs deeper he finds doors closing in his face – even from some of his colleagues who try desperately to stop his constant interference. But Grens is not a man easily stopped and slowly but surely he arrives at a name in his investigation: Piet Hoffmann. And his suspect has recently been sentenced to another long spell in prison.

As officials from the very high echelons try to thwart Grens to save the operation it becomes a question of who is expendable. Meanwhile, the man himself is even more determined to bring to justice the man he believes is a cold killer of policemen: Piet Hoffmann.

Review:
In light of the recent Swedish crime invasion to these shores, thanks largely to the magnificent Millenium Trilogy, it seems that you have to read the rough from the smooth, the good from the bad. Thankfully, it can be said that this latest novel from the writing team of Roslund and Hellstrom – one a journalist, the other an ex-con - has a dynamic that obviously enriches their plots. If you are looking for something after devouring Mr. Larsson’s three books, then I can assure you, dear readers, you can’t go wrong with Three Seconds.

Not only is this a great novel of subterfuge and counter-subterfuge, but it also holds mirror to a man who maybe isn’t totally sure of who he is and hides behind many different personas. So many that the real Piet Hoffmann is not so sure he is the real one after all. But it is the depth of information that is enthralling: from using mules to carry the amphetamines to mixing with grape juice to its distribution is fascinating. And I will never be able to look at a Tulip ever again without thinking about Three Seconds and the part they play in the plot. You feel that with Hellstrom’s input we are being given many tricks of the trade that can sometimes defy belief.

Three Seconds is an extremely well written piece of fiction with characters you begin to care about, tautly written with a spellbinding plot: you will be powerless to stop reading until the very end. So, is this as good as the famous ‘trilogy’? That is a bit like asking if a book about young wizards is the next ‘Harry Potter’. Those sorts of phenomenons are one in a million: but I reckon that Three Seconds is a Swedish novel that is brilliant in its own right and one worth looking out for.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
R & H:
Oh ... wow ... that’s really up to the reader. But, what we hope, is that every reader opens Three Seconds, looking for a joyride, coming late for work since he och she couldn’t put it down. Meaning, it’s always the story. A unique story. If you don’t have that, don’t write. Never ever repeat what once worked. The reader is expecting a new experience, looking for that feeling somewhere in the middle of the body taking you by surprise.

Then, you of course have the last pages.

A truly great crime/thriller novel will always, always(!) include that you didn’t see coming.

We work so hard with the last twist, or in Three Seconds, the last twists. At least four of them, each and everyone a new and with different direction.

So, if you read our books as pure pleasure, that’s good enough, makes us smile.
But – if you at the same time get an insight in the criminal world, new knowledge of a part of life you didn’t know so much about before, we are even happier, since we hope and believe that our combined knowledge is unique.
2) Now that the crime/thriller genre represents the largest section of fiction sold in the UK and Ireland, do you think we do enough to celebrate the quality and diversity of the writing?
R & H:
Look a decade back. Two decades. The crime/thriller genre has come a long way. Today you find it reviewed, considered, looked upon in a way that wasn’t done before. In another twenty years... we will find the genre working it’s way to even more respect.

And then, hey, the readers? They decide. And a quick glance on any Top Ten in any country... celebration enough.
3) A journalist and ex-convict writing crime novels is a very unusual author combination. How do you work together? How do you arrive at a completed book?
R & H:
Oh, again, we are probably the last persons to ask... we have changed the direction to a completed book every time. To never be able to be lazy, satisfied. Writing is, well, for example, your biceps. If you always exercise them it the same way, they will just work as much as they have to, that’s what muscles do. The same here. We try to exercise, to work, in different ways never getting too comfortable, keep trying our hardest to get the best result.

Still... how?
Hmm.

We are very open about most things. Open to talk, open with what we do. But there are two things we will never reveal: what our next book is about, and who does what in our work process. We make the books. We believe that if we talked about who did what, our collaboration would suffer as so many other good writing partnerships have over the years. But what we can say is that the process is divided into three stages of about eight months each. The first is research, followed by story development, and then the final stage is the writing itself. A cycle of about two years.
4) 'Three Seconds' is a very densely informative book. Is there a lot of research or is this information you have gathered during your former life?
Roslund:
Three Seconds is a six-hundred page-novel about contemporary crime.

An entertaining novel, an action novel, a crime novel about today's criminals and the authorities who meet and are responsible for them - the Prison and Probation Service and the Police Service. It's six hundred pages because the story demanded it. It took a long time to write. A long time to research, to meet key people, the kind that very few can or are allowed to meet.

A prerequisite for the novel, the actual fiction, was that it had to be right. And that depends so much on the contacts we have made and earned along the way. To be able to sit with men who who have been inside for thirty years, the ones who work as hitmen in prison, for hitmen, when debts need to be collected, to see them fill library books and newspapers and tulips with amphetamines, to see how they hide drugs and needles with the help of bits of elastic and bent spoons down toilet bowls in maximum security prisons, requires a trust that we have worked long and hard for - that is absolutely essential to us. To be able to meet policemen who work with criminals in the grey area that is called covert human intelligence. People who commit crimes in order that other crimes can be solved. To learn about the kind of places where they hold their secret meetings, or how you pay people who are not supposed to exist. To be able to get information from the heads of prison security about how things actually work and why we, the public, are not told. To shadow the people who train our military snipers and who can explain how to shoot from a church tower over a distance of fifteen hundred and three metres when the wind speed is seven metres a second and the temperature in the air is eighteen degrees, and why the bullet will then take exactly Three Seconds to reach its target - these meetings are essential to us in the writing of a book.

Hellström:
Of course we have brought different skills into writing based on our former lives. But parts of our knowledge are given us from different people, it may be lawyers, prisoners, former prisoners, police officers, military officers or correctional officers.

It has always been very interesting people. To answer your question; there is a lot of research and there is a lot of information from our former lives in our books. Simply put, Anders has previously been an investigative journalist and also parole officer and knows a lot of people that´s important to us. I am a reformed criminal and drug addict, now both parole officer and a qualified alcohol and drug therapist and I know other kind of people that´s important to us. Our former professions, our knowledge, skills and contacts are our deposits in a mutually authorship.
5) Piet Hoffmann is a man of two very different halves - an undercover operative and a loving husband and father. Have you met people who are able to keep lives and emotions that are poles apart?
R & H:
In our books we are trying to describe the relationship of victim versus perpetrator. We believe that most often it is the same person. Today an offender, tomorrow a victim.

Hellström:
I might be the best example of this reasoning. As a child I was three times a victim of sexual abuse by, for me, unknown men. As an adult I became, for some years, a drug addict and a criminal. As the perpetrator (I have committed a lot of crimes, assault, burglary, car theft, fraud, just name it), I was not primarily interested in my victims. One way that worked to avoid thinking about my victims were to drink myself drunk as a skunk or inject drugs. No empathy, sure. But as a perpetrator, you have no advantage in being able to feel empathy. If you could feel empathy as a perpetrator, you would not create any victims.

But I was also a crime victim. As a child I was a victim of sexual abuse. When I got older I was beaten, robbed, stabbed and people have shot at me. However, as a victim I was very interested in my offenders. I wanted to know who they were and what they looked like. After having found that out I got my revenge.

So, I was both a perpetrator and a victim. Was I good or was I bad?
6) The book contains a lot of detail about drugs inside Swedish prisons. This is a problem many countries have - and a fascinating subject. What started the idea to bring this matter to the heart of your latest book?
R & H:
Drugs inside prison are almost ten times as expensive as on the outside. And that affects the prison hierarchy (the murderers at the top, sex offenders and snitchers at the bottom) – because when it comes to narcotics inside prison then it´s the one who is in charge of narcotics that will be the king. Those who is in charge of the drug trade inside the walls are always at the top of this hierarchy. Then it does not matter if they are murderers or sex offenders. But just as long as they sit on the largest bag (with drugs), when the bag is no longer the largest, they have to return to their former place in the hierarchy.

We had this knowledge.
And so much more.

A novel, a thriller, supposed to be entertainment as well as a visit in a real, dark world – perfect bit of knowledge then to include.
7) Detective Inspector Ewert Grens is a very troubled soul. Did you think that putting this highly emotional man in to the mix would be a perfect mirror for the cool Hoffmann?
R & H:
Yes, Ewert is perfect. He needs this long novel to find the courage to walk the mile from his home to his wife’s grave. To somehow get rid his guilt. Ewert Grens and Piet Hoffmann is like two trains on the same track, moving in full speed against each other.
8) 'Three Seconds' never stops with the fast pace. Do you find it easy or difficult to write a novel without taking the foot off the accelerator?
R & H:
No, it’s not. All our novels are different – different pace, story, feeling. Three Seconds with its characters, story, prison life, high stakes... we had no choice, it’s a long story, and it’s told in a fast pace because it just had to. We, as authors, this time had no choice, you know, stories can sometimes have their own minds, not leaving even the author in charge...
9) What are your thoughts on the 'invasion' of Scandanavian crime in the UK? Were you surprised by the amazing effect the 'Millenium Trilogy' has had on the British reading public?
Roslund:
For me, my contact with Stieg was very important: I was for a long time publishing investigating journalism about extreme rightwinged organizations. At one point I was on top of their ”Deathlist” and was physically abused, became the ”threatend tv-man” in all papers, I had a bodyguard, I was living in hotels without an address, and as soon as my new number or address was known I got more deathtreats.

At that time I contacted Stieg since he had been around the same thing, and he had knowledge I needed. We shared this problem, we worked it out together. But from that point quite a few years ago – we were both journalists sometimes working with the same material. Seeing his books, with it’s amazing effect on the British reading public – no, it was of course not possible to imagine for anyone. I am very, very happy and very, very proud for that success, for him, for his relatives. And I am also happy and proud that we, Roslund & Hellström, already when his first novel was published had our own big audience in Sweden, and feel that we are not followers, more walking side by side.
10) In a dream scenario who would you like to direct and star in a film/TV adaptation of your book?
R & H:
It’s not a dream scenario any more! We are proud to confirm that for the first time in 39 years a Swedish novel is going straight from book to Hollywood. New Regency, a part of 20th Century Fox, is making Three Seconds into a major film.

We have seen and heard and agreed on names of top directors and top actors, but since their contracts still not has been signed we can’t even whisper them, although we would like to... but, as before, we are so proud.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
Roslund:
Hmm... that is actually an old Swedish one - Sjöwall/Wahlöö’s Man on the Roof (based on the book The Abominable Man - check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Abominable_Man), which in 1976 was turned into a movie which still has a lot of style. More about that film, check out the IMDB - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074857/.

And now - this is a sensation - for the very first time we actually agree on something!

Hellström:
I grew up in the areas of Stockholm as Sjöwall/Wahlöö describes in several books. In particular, they described my childhood areas in The Abominable Man (1971), and when Bo Widerberg made a movie of that book (The Man on the roof 1976)... I still love that movie.
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
Roslund:
Oh (”oh” for the third time, right?) this is the only question not possible to answer. Since it’s not written yet. I love crime/thriller novels. I have read them for so long... and I will always read them. And, hopefully, I have hundreds still to read. And I can’t stand the feeling that I aleady have met the best one. So I will keep looking for it. But, of course, since you are pointing at me with that big and heavy gun ... if I not will find any better among those hundreds .... then I will read Shutter Island again.

R & H:
Thanks for reading this, see you in our next book...