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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, 2010, * * * *

Piet Hoffman is a devoted husband and the father of two young sons.  He's also an ex-con who has been working undercover for the Stockholm police for nine years.  Code named "Paula," Piet has risen through the ranks of the Polish mafia and is chosen to lead the Poles' effort to control the supply of amphetamines in Sweden's prisons.  To do that, Piet must get himself arrested and sent to a maximum security prison, wipe out the existing supplier, and keep himself alive until he has all the information needed for the police to move on the gang.  Before he goes to prison he haplessly witnesses a murder during a drug deal gone terribly wrong. While Inspector Ewert Grens investigates the murder he runs into the secret agenda run by another group within the police department. Roslund, a former journalist, and Hellstrom, a former criminal, have concocted a brilliant thriller that posits a nearly literal invasion of Sweden by East European criminals allied with former state security agents.  Combine that with a morally compromised police department and Ministry of Justice effort to combat the invasion, and you have a genuine crisis. Piet's growing fear of discovery or betrayal and his angst at this beloved wife's ignorance of the work rachet up the story's tension page by page and make the novel difficult to put down. Named the Swedish Crime Novel of the Year in 2009, Three Seconds is a stunningly well-written police procedural that is combined with a psychological suspense novel.  At times the suspense was so well drawn that I had to put the book down to regain my composure.  It is a gritty, breathtaking story of colliding cases featuring corrupt officials, a barely sane investigator, and a nimble and likable ex-con.  It is a compelling book that has long lingered in my mind.

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