Winner of the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers 2009 award for Best Swedish Crime Novel of the year, Three Seconds is a not at all fast-paced, sometimes annoyingly over-written, yet engaging thriller mixing mafia drug trafficking with police corruption into an explosive concoction. The back cover claims that this new book by the unusual duo, Roslund (journalist) and Hellström (Ex-con), is from the “masters of Swedish crime literature who paved the way for Stieg Larsson.” Whether this proclaimed lineage or the American readership’s apparently insatiable appetite for Swedish crime stories can explain it, the near 500-page book nonetheless clocked in this week at number 8 on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Best Seller list.
Piet Hoffman, a former criminal working undercover for the Swedish police under the code name “Paula,” is about to undertake his most dangerous assignment: return to prison to corner the prison amphetamine trade for the Polish mafia, while secretly operating a police-approved ploy to crush the mafia’s operation. His Swedish police handler, Erik Wilson, knows how risky the operation will be, but has every confidence his informant will succeed. “He’d never had anyone like Paula before, someone who was so sharp, alert, cool ... Paula was better than all the others put together, too good to be a criminal.” (p. 23) Besides, Wilson has some responsibility for what happened, doesn’t he?
What happened was murder and Hoffman had been at the scene of the crime, unable (and unwilling) to stop it.
The day before, Hoffman called Wilson, asking for cover. An unexpected delivery of drugs is about to arrive. The chance they’d been waiting for. On a field trip to the U.S. to study new methods of covert operations, Wilson is unable to provide backup. “Get out,” he tells Hoffman. Too late, Hoffman says. Not to go along with the deal would risk blowing his cover; he’ll “go it alone.” (p. 10) But the deal goes bust when the buyer turns out to be an undercover informant himself and Hoffman can’t stop his Polish colleagues from killing the man without getting killed himself. At least he calls the police, anonymously. “A dead man. Vastmannagatan 79. Fourth floor.”