Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Monday, October 18, 2010

Box 21 by Anders Röslund & Borge Hellström

Picador, ISBN: 978-0-312-65534-1, ISBN10: 0-312-65534-2010.
Category: Scandinavian crime thriller.
Series: Second of five novels featuring Det. Superintendent Ewert Grens and Det. Sven Sundkvist.
Authors website:
Roslund & Hellstrom.
My rating: 5/5.

Box 21 arrived Friday from Picador. I was deep into The Blood of an Englishman by James McClure and I almost put it on the TBR stack but decided to give it a quick look to get a feel for the story, style, characters. The "I'll just the read first couple of pages" extended to 25 then 50 then a day later I finished it.

Two stories run through Box 21. The main plot deals with the sex trade and human trafficking in Sweden. Lydia and Alena were lured to Sweden from Lithuania with the promise of high wages. Three years later the police find them living as sex slaves in Stockholm. Lydia has been badly beaten and is sent to hospital. Alena slips away in the confusion. Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens and his assistant Sven Sundkvist are called to investigate.

The parallel story is personal for Grens. Jochum Lang, career criminal and hitman, is getting out of prison after two years. The authorities have been unable to nail Lang on any major crime that would put him away for a long time. Years ago Lang was responsible for an accident that left Grens' lover brain damaged and in a nursing home. Gren is determined to nail him whatever the cost.

As a crime thriller, Box 21 is engrossing but it isn't an easy read. The descriptions of the sexual exploitation and degradation of Lydia and Alena are brutal and horrific. The National Police Board in Sweden estimates that between 400 to 600 women are forced to work in the sex industry each year according to a 2007 article in Sweden SE (Sweden battles human trafficking by Kajsa Claude). What happens to Lydia and Alena is not exaggerated. The National Police Board in Sweden estimates that between 400 to 600 women are forced to work in the sex industry each year according to a 2007 article in Sweden SE (Sweden battles human trafficking by Kajsa Claude)

Box 21 is as dark and bleak as any crime story I've ever read. It reminds you that life doesn't have nice tidy endings where good is rewarded and evil punished. At the end, I felt sad, sad for two women victims of sex slavery seeking justice and sad for the lapses in character of the two detectives. I don't say this to put anyone off from reading Box 21. It is well written with a believable plot and some characters that you will despise and others you feel for. It takes turns I didn't expect and did not end as I thought it would. And the authors weave the parallel stories smoothly. It is so good that I need to get the first, The Beast, to see where Grens and Sundkvist came from and the next three to see where they go.


Maxine said...

Great review, I agree completely with you about this book and its bleakness. I still have not forgiven the detectives for their "lapses" at the end...I am still shaking with outrage about it, actually....

I have not gone back to read The Beast, but have thought about it. The reviews of it I have read are not that great.

Apparently there are two (?) books in the series that have not been translated, inbetween Box 21 and Three Seconds, which is a bit annoying, and possibly explains why the events at the end of Box 21 are not referred to in Three Seconds (though the back-story of Grens continues).

Dorte H said...

I borrowed this one from the library, but after a few pages I decided it was just too bleak for me so I didn´t finish it.

Mack said...

Drat, you're right Maxine. Bookdepository only lists Box 21 and Three Seconds. The authors' web site says that Redemption, the book following Box 21, is under translation in the US and the UK. Not so with The Girl Below the Street.

Dorte, if you decided it was too bleak after a few pages it is good that you didn't read to the end. :) The authors did not give the readers a break and the end made me both angry and sad but not angry in a "throw the book against the wall and vow never to read anything by the author ever again" kind of mad. I actually admire them for not compromising.

Maxine said...

Me too, I admire the lack of compromise, and also the fact that it made it impossible for me to like Grens and his sidekick ever again, yet I was still interested to read the next (available in English translation) novel, Three Seconds.....