Review: Two Soldiers, By Roslund & Hellström. Quercus, £16.99


Whatever your ultimate response to this new novel by the Swedish criminologist and ex-criminal duo, the hardest-hitting writers of the Scandinavian crime wave, you will find yourself utterly engaged from the very first chapter. Whether or not (through the 600 pages of Two Soldiers) that inexorable grip is maintained is perhaps more open to debate.

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The head of the Stockholm police’s Organised Crime and Gang Section is José Pereira. His wall is covered with mugshots – young boys who are being transformed into hardened, ruthless criminals. Two blood brothers, Leon and Gabriel, have been on a trajectory of extreme violence that will bring about domination of their territory. Pereira, however, is closing in – and he has an ally, a man as ruthless as the criminals he pursues: DCI Ewert Grens.

Pereira is a strong protagonist,  but readers who have encountered earlier books by Roslund & Hellström will be pleased to see the reappearance of their signature creation, one of the most flintily realised coppers in the genre. Grens bristles with a remarkable range of characteristics (most remaining beneath the surface). Here, all of the elements that made earlier R&H books such as Three Seconds and Cell 8 among the most socially committed and confrontational entries in the crime field are firmly in place.

Regular readers of the duo, who savour their absolute refusal to soften their blows, will find this novel, in Kari Dickson’s translation, customarily forceful. But there is, regrettably, a caveat. Unlike earlier books, the considerable length of Two Soldiers is not really justified by the concentrated, straightforward narrative at the centre: there is a tauter, more economical novel struggling to get out.

Is this an example of the syndrome whereby publishers demand ever-longer crime novels as a sop to what they see as readers’ preferences? Whatever the reason, the result is one novel by Roslund & Hellström which at times relaxes its grip. Given the undeniable achievements of the duo, both throughout this book and elsewhere, it’s a shame to have to record that slackening.