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Roslund and Hellstrom - 'Two Soldiers' (translated by Kari Dickson)
Paperback: 672 pages (Apr. 2014) Publisher: Quercus Publishing Plc ISBN: 1848664737

"Brutha seriously ARMED and very TIGHT unit!!! 200% love respect pride bruthahood duty belonging honor."

Sweden - some years ago. A young woman gives birth in a prison cell. The baby lies warm and wet on her stomach until hands lift it up and take it out of the room. A mobile incubator is loaded into an ambulance in the courtyard below. The girl asks the policeman if the baby was a boy or a girl.

Stockholm suburbs - Raby - present day.
The young man looks at the girl, naked in the bed beside him. She offers to rub ointment into his burn-scarred back. And although she is the only one aside from Leon that he trusts to accept his ravaged skin - he hits her hand hard and she lowers her eyes. Later they walk through the concrete tower blocks of Raby towards the Metro. A skinny twelve-year-old on the steps calls him by name - "Gabriel." Calls him "bro". He slaps the kid's cheek. The boy stands tall and proud as the couple walk down into the metro. At the shopping centre, they go into the basement car park and Gabriel works on a Mercedes while the girl keeps lookout. Soon they are driving north. They stop at the usual Shell station and the girl disappears into the toilets for twenty minutes. Then they continue towards Apsas Prison. The girl, Wanda, enters the security block: "visitor for Leon Jensen"; ID; metal detector; a search - then through to the visiting room with its barred window, sink, bed with plastic under its single sheet. The door is unlocked and Jensen enters. He points to the bed. She lies down. Moments later he extracts the bag of drugs from her and she gets her orders for next time. Angrily he thinks of her with Gabriel. "Whore, do you understand?" She looks away. He empties the capsules into the condoms by the bed. Then he swallows the filled condoms one by one....

TWO SOLDIERS is a war story - the sixth crime novel, fifth translated into English, from prize-winning Swedish writing duo Roslund and Hellstrom. Roslund is a journalist and Hellstrom an ex-criminal and together they write starkly realistic crime stories which have won awards and been translated worldwide. Set in part on a run-down, fire-struck, housing estate, amongst other things TWO SOLDIERS portrays a startling and detailed realisation of the planning and execution of a prison escape, from not just one but from three prisons; of murder, a police hunt and relentless, escalating violence as a gang plans to step up in the world and for their individual mug shots to reach pride of place at the top of the wall in the office of the Organised Crime & Gang Unit led by Jose Pereira. And - to "kill them all".

It chills with its portrait of an alien, bleak world of hierarchy, complete obedience, uniform and ritual that makes up the "one luv" of a gang - a crime family that has an identity capable of outliving its individual parts. This particular gang, once the Raby Warriors, is led by Leon and Gabriel and it soon transforms into the Ghetto Soldiers, new name, new tattoos. Pereira has been noticing this phenomenon recently, locality names have become as he puts it - "something more philosophical". Bredang Legion becomes Red Generation, Raby Warriors - Ghetto Soldiers; a shift from "area" to "tribal" identity as the rage hones the drive that shapes the gangs. Long-standing protagonist of Roslund & Hellstrom - Homicide DCI Ewert Grens - returns, summoned by murder. He still sleeps on his office sofa and craves his Sixties songs. (If like me you have not read Roslund & Hellstrom before, it may be a good idea to catch up with some of Ewert Grens' earlier appearances in the Roslund & Hellstrom canon.) In Raby we also meet Ana, mother of a gang leader, who is haunted by the desolation and cyclical crime on the estate where she lives and works. And she longs for some way to put an end to it.

TWO SOLDIERS is tough reading. Its stripped-down, observational style reads well in the English translation by Kari Dickson (who has translated previous Roslund & Hellstrom novels as well as books by Anne Holt and Hans Koppel). But it requires the reader to concentrate. I admit that I found this bleak and brutal world one that I was almost reluctant to re-enter after my first few breaks (at 660 plus pages, this is a big book). But when I did plunge in, I became absorbed by characters captured with the minimum of description and naming, their stories, coolly complex plotting and increasing suspense; in all these are the grim events of what feels to be a major saga of a crime story (which of course is what it is - for it is not just the number of pages that makes this a big book). I am unsure about parts of the ending, a major finale to be sure. But nevertheless this book is a tough, chilling tale told with detailed realism and I do not hesitate to recommend it.

Read another review of TWO SOLDIERS.

Lynn Harvey, England
April 2014

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 25/05/2014 08:54