Posted: July 30, 2011 in review, Sweden

The US title of this book Box 21 is far more appropriate than the UK title The Vault, and therefore I will use that when necessary. 

I am not going to attempt much of a plot synopsis, because Box 21 is a book that needs to be a journey of discovery. It is a very dark journey, and if you are like me you will be angry when you have finished. Not angry with the book, but with the events in the story. I found myself hoping that I would be wrong about the conclusion, and shouting with frustration when I was right. 

In a Stockholm fifth floor apartment with electronic locks are two Lithuanian girls forced into prostitution. One Lydia Grajauskas has been whipped by a man she calls Dimitri-Bastard-Pimp. While the other Alena Sljusareva hides naked in another room, and runs away when police officers, Ewert Grens, Sven Sundqvist and Bengt Nordwall arrive.

Meanwhile junkie Odeus Hilding is desperate for money so he cuts speed with washing powder, and sells it to the wrong girl. Enforcer Jochum Lang , just released from prison, is sent by the Yugoslav mafia to punish Hilding, for cutting their product. After overdosing Hilding is in the hospital where Lydia has been sent for treatment for her injuries. Aging difficult detective Ewert Grens has been waiting to get Jochum Lang put away for a long sentence ever since Lang was responsible for a dreadful accident twenty five years earlier that left Anni, Grens’s wife in a nursing home, and Grens deeply traumatized. Lydia Grajauskas and Ewert Grens will both make very difficult decisions as the situation unfolds.

‘Alena, I am absolutely sure. Someone has to know. This must never happen again.’

I read Box 21 very quickly because it is written in a matter of fact style with the sort of details that draw you in to the action. The characters may be deeply flawed but they are interesting and you turn the pages wanting to discover their fate. If you read crime fiction because you want to see justice done this is not the book for you. If you like books that are truthful, very sad, and don’t pull their punches then get hold of this superb example of Swedish crime fiction that jumped straight in to my top reads of the year. 

‘I saw you in the flat.’

‘It was very chaotic.’

‘I would know you were Swedish anyway, even if I’d never met you. I’ve got to know what Swedish men look like.’

The authors Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom have recently won the CWA International Dagger with their thriller Three Seconds. Anders Roslund is the founder and former head of Culture News on Swedish Television, and a prize winning investigative reporter at Rapport [Sweden’s equivalent of CNN]. Borge Hellstrom is an ex-criminal who helps rehabiltate young offenders and drug addicts, and a founder of KRIS-a non-profit association which assists released prisoners during their first period of freedom.  

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Thanks for this review. It just goes to show that crime fiction doesn’t have to end with “getting the bad guys” and seeing wrongs righted to be excellent.

  2. Norman says:

    Margot- I felt really shaken by this book, but it is probably more true to life than a lot of sugar coated crime fiction where everything turns out alright. In one way this story was almost as revolutionary as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in the way it treated the reader.

  3. I too was shaken by this book Norman, it’s realism a big part of the reason. Having read it before the authors’ prize-winning THREE SECONDS was part of the reason I was so disappointed by that one which I didn’t think held a candle to this one. I’m still thinking about BOX 21

  4. Norman says:

    Bernadette- I enjoyed Three Seconds, but I agree it was not in the same league as Box 21.

    Reading Box 21 and the recent terrible events in Oslo, and at Utoya Island, makes me think of Scandinavian societies as some kind of version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. On the surface everything looks so spotless, but underneath things are just as rotten as in Italy, USA or the UK, but they usually cover it up better.

  5. Maxine says:

    I agree with your take on this book, Norman, it left me shaken and furious. I think there is an untranslated story between Box 21 and 3 Seconds which may fill in some of the inexplicable gaps between the two, re Ewert Grens and co. But maybe not.
    I’ve just read a couple of Norwegian novels, by Fossum and Holt, and though I agree with you that many perceive Norway as an idyll, it is quite clear that these authors do not, and dissect the murk under the surface – Fossum focuses more on individual crimes and Holt on the interenational/organised sphere.

  6. Maxine says:

    PS, not many of the Gunnar Staalesen novels have been translated yet, but he is another author who has been exposing Norway’s “underbelly” since the 1970s, and is still writing/doing so via his Varg Veum novels.

  7. kathy d. says:

    Well, Jo Nesbo certainly doesn’t think Norway is idyllic, not by the two books I read by him. In Nemesis, he does criticize right-wingers and bigotry.

    However,the ultra-right is in Scandinavia, as Stieg Larsson knew and publicized through Euro. He was very aware of this danger. Henning Mankell has also said it in his books and to the media.

    The Norwegian government didn’t see the ultra-right as a serious threat, but now they will. Unfortunately, and horribly, many promising young people died because of this miscalculation.

  8. […] Norman reviews The Vault (Box 21) by Roslund and Hellstrom and says “If you read crime fiction because you want to see justice done this is not the book for you. If you like books that are truthful, very sad, and don’t pull their punches then get hold of this superb example of Swedish crime fiction that jumped straight in to my top reads of the year.” (I might add here that I thought this book far more memorable and moving than Three Seconds. The subject matter is more gripping, but also more disturbing.) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s