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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Three Seconds

Anders Roslund
Börge Hellström

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To purchase Three Seconds

Title: Three Seconds
Author: Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 485 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Three Seconds - US
Three Seconds - UK
Three Seconds - Canada
Drei Sekunden - Deutschland
Tre Secondi - Italia
  • Swedish title: Tre sekunder
  • Translated by Kari Dickson

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Our Assessment:

B : decent suspense

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Dagens Nyheter . 18/6/2009 Lotta Olsson
The Guardian . 25/9/2010 John O'Connell
The Independent . 2/11/2010 Barry Forshaw
The LA Times . 30/1/2011 Paula L. Woods
The NY Times . 6/1/2011 Janet Maslin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/1/2011 Marilyn Stasio
USA Today . 3/1/2011 Carol Memmott
The Washington Times A 15/4/2011 Muriel Dobbin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tre sekunder är en verklig thriller, en bok där spänningen stiger och tempot stegras så till den milda grad att man kommer på sig själv med att hålla andan. (...) Det hade räckt med detta för att kalla Tre sekunder för en alldeles ovanligt lyckad thriller, men i slutet av boken kommer också ett skickligt turnerat avslöjande som vänder upp och ned på allt." - Lotta Olsson, Dagens Nyheter

  • "Quercus has high hopes for Three Seconds -- justifiably so. The translation by Kari Dickson is superb." - John O'Connell, The Guardian

  • "The first third of the book may be andante but thereafter, the tempo is firmly allegro. R & H have even managed to freight in some cogent aperçus about the nature of identity amid the clammy suspense. Three Seconds is no dumbed-down blockbuster." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "Piet's presence along with the novel's savage dissection of societal and government corruption make Three Seconds a nerve-jangling ride and perhaps a kissing cousin of Larsson's novels. (...) (W)hile there is sure to be the requisite media hype surrounding the publication of Three Seconds in the U.S., readers who appreciate fine crime writing should seek out the Swedish masters as well." - Paula L. Woods, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Fans of the genre are more apt to appreciate the devilishness of such plot details than the tiresome, vaguely flawed character development that comes with them. (...) Perhaps something is lost in translation. Certainly something will be lost on those who, in reading Three Seconds, are entering the authors’ Ewert Grens series in midstream." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "Hoffmann is cynically betrayed by the top police brass and maneuvered into a thrill-a-minute cat-and-mouse game with his merciless mob associates." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Roslund & Hellstrom pull out all the stops, peppering the story with unfathomable mysteries. (...) Gun play, explosions, betrayals and the ingenious ways drugs and weapons are smuggled into prisons give this novel, Roslund & Hellström's fifth, an eau de testosterone level that's through the roof." - Carol Memmott, USA Today

  • "You may not like this book but you will find it very difficult to put down. It is a brutally gripping thriller that offers authoritative insight into the darkness of the criminal world, and its prose is as tense as a telegram." - Muriel Dobbin, The Washington Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Three Seconds Roslund and Hellström try their best to set the stage for a dramatic, hard-core thriller with a cold-blooded murder. There's a ruthless Polish Mafia behind it, an international organization looking to expand its reach, and everything about the premise is made to make it seem large-scale. One thing the authors can't get around is the setting they chose, Sweden -- just about as small-scale as it gets.
       After a decent build-up readers learn what the Mafia-plan is: they want to control the drug-market in the Swedish prison system. The organization already controls the Norwegian, Danish, and Finnish markets, and now they want to land the big fish: the Swedish market. Sounds like a plan -- but then someone notes (in support of the plan, mind you) that:

"There are about five thousand people in prison in Sweden."
       Just for comparison: New York state (with roughly double the population of Sweden) has some 60,000 prisoners in its facilities, New York city alone another 13,000 or so (plus over 5000 in federal facilities in the state).
       Small-scale offers many opportunities too, but Roslund and Hellström insist on the spectacularly large-scale: since their boring country -- no offense, Swedish readers: that's a good thing -- can otherwise hardly provide it they have to go for the all-out grand conspiracy, à la Stieg Larsson. Okay, no prime ministers get involved here, but there is a government conspiracy that reaches pretty high; à la Larsson as well, the authorities include many who act in a morally dubious way. (Official Scandinavian corruption is strangely high-minded in all these thrillers: rarely is a government official on the take; instead, they're morally corrupted for what they convince themselves is the greater good: here they try to ease their consciences by telling themselves, once they have set their dastardly plan in action: "What we are doing is not wrong. It's just the way things are. We are doing no wrong.").
       Of course, the authorities -- the police and prosecutor's office -- always also include many who will do the right thing, too -- though they generally need someone to lead the way. In Roslund and Hellström's world this is loner-man Ewert Grens. Indeed, once the bad-egg officials know that Grens is on the case they know it's over:
     "The sort who doesn't give up."
     The sort that never gives up.
     "It will be a disaster. Do you hear, Kristian, a disaster ? "
     "It won't be a disaster."
     "Grens doesn't let go.
       Of course, the fun -- and much of the excitement -- in the novel comes from the authorities trying have their cake and eat it too. But Grens ... well, he never gives up, and so disaster is not averted. Boy, is it ever not averted.
       Three Seconds is apparently the fifth in the Ewert Grens-series, but UK and US publishers didn't bother with volumes three or four; the last time English-reading readers met Grens was in Box 21. Roslund and Hellström have provided little character-background or development along the way, and with two chapters missing, Grens remains even more of a cipher. He was still dutifully visiting the love of his life, Anni, in Box 21, but now she's dead -- how ? why ? who knows ..... Other than his Siw Malmkvist-obsession -- and that big, unfurnished apartment -- readers still don't get much insight into the character. Similarly, his sidekick Sven Sundkvist remains ... well, a convenient figure that Grens can rely on when he has to (he can't hate everyone ...) and little else: there's token mention of his love for his wife and son, but in this episode Sundkvist could have easily been replaced by any other officer on duty .....
       At least one character is given a bit more attention: Piet Hoffmann, a criminal turned police informer who is working deep undercover, having infiltrated the Polish mob. With a wife and two young kids -- whom he spends quite a bit of time with, since they've come down with a cold and can't be stuck in the nursery -- he's shown to be a good guy who nevertheless has volunteered for one really ugly job. He's infiltrated the mob so well that they're willing to have him be their man on the inside when they take over the drug-dealing in the prison system -- and since he's actually the police's man, if he's successful he could bring one very large criminal operation down almost single-handedly. The problem is he has to do it from the inside -- from jail. Alone.
       As his police-handler reminds him:
You're Wojtek's main man. You're our main man. But if anything happens, Piet, you're on your own.
       Three guesses whether anything happens .....
       But, of course, he's not entirely on his own: the tenacious Ewert Grens gets mixed up in the case, and when everything goes south, Grens is the man to put the pieces together.
       Hoffmann knows what kind of danger he is putting himself in, and so he does make his own preparations, too. They're very good preparations -- indeed, quite a bit too good to be true (or at least work out quite so well) -- but it's all in good fun, and even if Roslund and Hellström do telegraph a bit too much (who thought that the title Three Seconds was a good idea ?) it still makes for decent suspense, along the lines of that TV action-fantasy show 24.
       This is a pretty simplistic action-thriller, with an emphasis on the action -- which is, admittedly, pretty good. The plotting and pacing leaves a bit to be desired, and far too much is unconvincing, but it has the making of a decent movie. For the protagonist of a series Ewert Grens deserves better: Roslund and Hellström have got to make more out of their mystery-man; that Siw Malmkvist-loving, Anni-pining loner act is getting pretty tired since there's not more (shown to be) to it.
       The breathless pace helps hide some of the book's flaws, as things move along quickly and fairly excitingly, but until they work on their character-development -- as they briefly do with Hoffmann (glimmers of hope !) -- the Roslund and Hellström-books remain resolutely B-grade thrillers.
       A decent beach-read, but not much more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 January 2011

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Three Seconds: Reviews: Anders Roslund: Other books by Roslund and Hellström under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       Swedish author Anders Roslund was born 1961.

       Swedish co-author Börge Hellström was born in 1957

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