Monday, July 27, 2015

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Two Soldiers

Perhaps it is a consequence of a degree of overexposure to laudatory descriptions of the Swedish welfare state that the accentuated bleakness of life for people in disadvantaged communities in the country jars the leisurely mental gait assumed when approaching a novel. This is progressive Scandinavia, not Tory Britain. Life in Raby, Southern Stockholm, as described in Two Soldiers might as easily have been eked out in inner city Manchester or Glasgow.

Much of Swedish crime fiction doubles up as social commentary and Two Soldiers is no different. Although Two Soldiers unlike Between Summer's Longing And Winter's End is based in a completely different milieu. In the latter the characters tend to play out their lives and careers in a rarefied social stratosphere, largely untouched by poverty and deprivation.  Sleaze, well that's another matter. As the Czech proverb intuitively observes, the big thieves hang the little ones.

When we perceive the melancholy that is often regarded as a trait of the Swedish national character, the lives of the people in Raby who have to bring up their children in the desolation it manufactures tend to authenticate the perception. Some children, from the moment of their birth inside the prison where their mothers were confined, seem destined for a journey through a life of crime on a runaway vehicle from which they have no possibility of disembarking. Trainwreck

Börge Hellström, a former villain, has formed a hugely successful writing partnership with investigative journalist Anders Roslund. In Two Soldiers, they animate a subculture wholly alienated from the state: a youth culture that cannot be labelled by the political right as “welfare junkie” because the benefits system is not the source of their income. The youth here are much more industrious than that. The high that takes them though their day is attained from snorting the adrenalin procured from unrelenting criminality. 

The authors delve into the minutiae of organized criminal gangs with investigative aplomb: their structure, culture, hierarchy, the prison regimes they endure, the loyalty they inspire and demand, equalled only by their hatred of the police. They address each other as “One Love Brother”, and the cops are invariably “pig bastard”, even in casual conversation between gang members and police officers. 

The Raby Warriors, a gang run by two teenagers - Leon and Gabriel - who regard themselves as brothers, is determined to take over the crime scene. Gabriel is on the outside but Leon is not. He is locked up in Aspas Maximum Security prison. Equally as determined to stop them is the Organized Crime and Gang Section of the Stockholm police, led by Jose Pereira. The assistance of a more experienced head is called for and Chief Superintendent Ewert Grens enters the scene. Indefatigable, obsessive, determined, his arrival on the scene precipitates a shift in the balance of power. 

The gang he faces is ferociously intelligent, forensic and fastidious. It leaves little to chance as it plans both the big prison escape and a knockout punch against the Organized Crime and Gang Section of the Stockholm police.

The challenge in a book of this length, circa 650 pages, is not so much to maintain the pace ~ because there is no real pace to it ~ it is to maintain the interest. The narrative is slow, methodical, captivating and tends to sag a bit in the middle as it veers into chicanes for no compelling reason. A hundred less pages and it would have been a five star read. Despite that shortcoming it was well worth effort.

Hope is said to be the last thing to die. There was little about hope in this book.

Börge Hellström, & Anders Roslund, 2014, Two Soldiers. ISBN: 978-0857386854. Quercus: London.

2 comments :

Henry JoY said...

Well penned review AM.

(Imaginary hopes are as toxic as imagined fears).

marty said...

Apologies for so late a comment,in the hills and access to the puter is limited,
Anthony gave me this book a while ago and totally agree with Henry Joy it is indeed a well penned review, such a dark book with intense characters,it could be located anywhere as Anthony says, I thoroughly enjoyed both the book and the review,