BOX 21 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom

Book Quote:

“In Lithuania, trading in narcotics, say, is a serious crime. Heavy sentences are passed. Long, harsh punishments are meted out. But trading in people, in young women, that’s risk-free. In Lithuania pimps are hardly ever punished. No one is sentenced, no one gets a spell in prison.”

Book Review:

Review by Mary Whipple (OCT 16, 2009)

The grisly lives of innocent, sixteen- and seventeen-year-old Lithuanian girls, tricked into leaving their homeland on the promise of good jobs, unfold in tawdry detail as Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström focus on the sex trade in Sweden, its clientele, the financial syndicates which profit from it, the enforcers which protect it, and the police and others who allow it to flourish. Lydia Grajauskas, a “pro” with three years of experience by the age of twenty, like her friend Alena Sljusareva, serves twelve customers a day, earning almost no income except what she can negotiate with her customers for “extras.” Living in an apartment which a Russian with a diplomatic passport claims as “Lithuanian territory,” exempt from Swedish laws, Lydia can expect little help from the local police. Until she is beaten within an inch of her life.

Ewert Grens, a veteran police inspector in charge of the investigation, has several other issues to deal with at the same time. Twenty-five years ago, Jochum Lang, a sadistic drug dealer and Mafia hitman, dragged Ewert’s partner and lover Anni out of the back of the police van Ewert was driving, and she suffered catastrophic injuries. Lang is about to be released from prison, and Ewert still seeks vengeance upon him. The two plot lines converge when Lang appears at the hospital where Lydia is recuperating. Before long, the hospital is in lockdown.

Roslund and Hellström humanize this drama by alternating the focus between the two stories, giving background information about all the key characters. Ewert Grens, we learn, lives the life of a hermit, his only friend being fellow-officer Bengt Nordwall and his wife Lena, who invite him to meals and provide him with the only family life he has known for twenty-five years. Lydia’s friend Alena still pines for Janoz, her lover back home, and both girls are hoping to escape their bondage to Dmitri-Bastard-Pimp, their boss, and return to Lithuania. Hilding Oldeus, a drug addict who was protected by Jochum Lang when he was in jail, shares the torments of addiction and its effects on his family members, becoming a focus of the novel when Lang is released from jail. Sven Sundkvist, Ewert Grens’s current partner, afraid of the sight of blood and of bodies, is a thoughtful man who is as interested in knowing what motivates people to commit crimes as he is in stopping crime. A truly ethical man, he is the conscience of the novel.

Though the novel is exotic, in the sense that it describes the sadistic sexual practices of the prostitutes’ handlers and their customers, it is otherwise a traditional mystery/thriller. The focus is on the drama and the plot, with little attention to deep themes and no suggestion that the issues at the heart of the novel are being addressed by the government in any organized fashion. Though much sympathy is evoked for the sad victims of prostitution here, it seems that the best the police may be able to do is investigate and try individual crimes as they become known. The problems of witness intimidation, police corruption, and bending the truth to get a conviction, standard complications of many other police procedurals, also make their appearance here.

Though the novel takes place in Sweden, where the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson also takes place (causing some people to compare these novels on this basis), this novel is a far more traditional mystery than the Larsson books, and it is sometimes marred by clichés, both in its plot and in its ponderous observations. Statements like “This must never happen again,” “When someone is kicked around for long enough, there comes a time [to] kick back,” and “Truth is the only thing people can bear to live with in the long run,” state the obvious and add nothing to the drama or to any thematic development. The novel offers some insights into the sleazy underworld of Stockholm, but it comes accompanied by sadism and fully described crimes against underage girls. The authors clearly empathize with these girls, however, creating a novel which has the feel of a shocking, journalistic expose.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 41 readers
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 13, 2009)
REVIEWER: Mary Whipple
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More Scandanavian crime fiction…


  • The Beast (2004; 2005 in US)
  • Box 21 (2005; October 2009 in US)
  • Redemption (2006; not in US)
  • The Girl Below the Street (2007; not in US)
  • Three Seconds (May 2009; January 2011)
  • Cell 8 (October 2011)

October 16, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Sleuths Series, Sweden, Translated

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