I will confess that any new book by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström boldly shoulders itself to the top of my reading pile. Roslund is an award-winning investigative journalist, while Hellström is an ex-convict; one could not concoct a more intriguing writing team out of whole cloth if they deliberately attempted to do so. Roslund and Hellström have demonstrated time and again that they possess the ability to raise and discuss social issues, particularly regarding criminal justice, incarceration and capital punishment, within the framework of riveting crime fiction --- and to do so in a remarkably even-handed manner.
TWO SOLDIERS, their latest novel to be published in the United States, brings their focus to the issue of juvenile gang crime in a way that will satisfy readers who have been on board with them from the beginning, as well as those who are experiencing their work for the first time.
"It is raw, brutal and real without being gratuitous in its presentation of violence. Even with all of this, however, Roslund and Hellström never lose control of the intricate plotting and pacing."
This is the sixth proper installment in the series featuring Stockholm DCIs Ewert Grens and Sven Sundkvist. The narrative is not told in chapters, per se, but is presented for the most part in short chops of a page or two, where point of view can change capriciously. This may take a bit of getting used to for the unwary, but it propels the story along very well and does not take long at all before things sort themselves out.
The overall focus of the narrative is a street gang known as the Raby Warriors. The group takes its name from the town of Raby, where they are based, an all-but-forgotten hellhole of a place that moves to its own dysfunctional and dystopian rhythm. The gang is led by two toughs named Leon and Gabriel, blood brothers whose ambitions range far beyond the pitiful streets of their miserable suburb. They have gone far with the practice of recruiting children to carry out their criminal enterprises, but they plan to increase both territory and influence by carrying out a daring, all-but-insane prison break at the Aspas Maximum Security facility. Their nemesis on the law enforcement side is Jose Pereira, who is the head of Stockholm’s Organized Crime and Gang section in Raby.
When the prison breach is successfully executed, Grens is tapped to lead the investigation into the matter. His efforts uncover the connection to the Warriors, and to Leon and Gabriel in particular. Pereira, already dealing with the fallout occasioned by the Warriors in Raby, joins with Grens in an attempt to shut down the Warriors for good, using methods legal and otherwise to do so.
TWO SOLDIERS is not misnamed; it chronicles a war on the streets where the forces of law must often become what they behold in order to be effective. It is raw, brutal and real without being gratuitous in its presentation of violence. Even with all of this, however, Roslund and Hellström never lose control of the intricate plotting and pacing. And yes, that is true even with the choppy narrative and merry-go-round changing of point of view, both of which add to rather than detract from the book’s readability. And while TWO SOLDIERS is a big book, it is also one that you wish would never end.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 13, 2014