Roslund and Hellstrom - 'Two Soldiers' (translated by Kari Dickson)
"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.
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