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In book blurbs and articles, Jens Lapidus is routinely referred to as 'Sweden's Number One bestselling thriller writer'. He is also a successful criminal lawyer who has represented some of Stockholm's most unsavoury individuals.
This explains why Easy Money reads so differently from the average suspense novel. For Lapidus has tapped his own experiences to tell this sometimes compelling, sometimes desultory tale. Moreover, he seems determined to use fiction for a wider purpose - to catalogue and analyse the forces that drive Sweden's burgeoning underworld.
Easy Money - the English translation of the novel Snabba Cash - is the first part of the Stockholm Noir Trilogy. In it, Lapidus follows the violent careers of three men who inhabit the grey realm of drugs, guns and sordid sex.
There's Mrado, a mid-level member of the increasingly powerful Yugo Mafia. He spends his days pumping iron, gulping down protein drinks and pining for his little daughter, who lives with his ex-wife. For a living he terrorises nightclub bouncers, runs a coatcheck racket and obeys orders issued by the powerful Radovan. Like the rest of this gang, Mrado surfaced in Sweden after the bloody break up of Yugoslavia and is a killer without a conscience.
Then there's Jorge, an expert on the lucrative business of cocaine. The Chilean immigrant manages a spectacular escape from a high-security prison and both the police and the Serbs are on his tail. He needs a new identity, a new passport and a new life. But his first priority is revenge against Radovan.
JW is the new kid on this dangerous block. Although a small-town 'Sven', he's determined to run with the brat pack. But to be part of "the boyz" he needs easy money to fund the Rolex watch, evenings at fancy restaurants and sessions with strippers. Which is how he starts supplying cocaine to the party crowd, and soon becomes a force in the city's lucrative C business.
The three men's lives are about to collide, and the results are bound to be explosive. Meanwhile, Lapidus takes the reader through many layers of Stockholm - from razzle-dazzle Stureplan with its lisping, Prada-clad inhabitants to the 'blatte' quarters, with their ramshackle structures, poverty and hopelessness. Clearly, he is an expert guide, and navigates his city with ease.
The pity, though, is that Lapidus is not equally deft at telling his story. His characters are amoral and often downright nasty. His (or his translator's ) grammatical quirks are irritating. His style is slow and repetitive. As a result, the book tends to drag.
Perhaps Swedish readers have an insatiable appetite for micro-details about Stockholm's underbelly, which would explain how this book sat on the Swedish bestseller list for two years. The rest of us, however, are likely to lose patience much more quickly.
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