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Box 21: A Swedish Sex Slave Thriller that Translates Well to American Readers

Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 6:04 am
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In today's Book Review, we turn to Sweden, where Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom light up the pages of Box 21, the tale of an aging detective who's stalking a sex slave ring while simultaneously trying to take down a hit man who left his partner incapacitated 25 years before...

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Borge Hellstrom and Anders Roslund offer a brutally intimate view of the European sex slave trade
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Box 21
By Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
Sarah Crichton Books, 400 pages

The deal: Stockholm Detective Ewert Grens is jonesing to take down Jochum Lang. Twenty-five years ago, he was the subject of an arrest gone bad that left Grens' partner and love-of-his-life incapacitated in a nursing home.

But his revenge plot is interrupted when he arrives at the apartment of a beaten Lithuanian hooker. Lydia and her friend Alena had been summoned to Sweden three years before with the promise of work. That's where a sex slave ring forced them into prostitution. They must endure the sadistic sexual desires of their clients and regular beatings from their pimp, all while Lydia plots her own revenge.

The upside: This is an ambitious and sprawling novel, ranging from police corruption, a hospital hostage situation, and the untold secrets of Grens' best friend on the force. Though Roslund and Hellstrom don't blow you away with their prose -- or maybe it's just the translation to English -- their writing is crisp, steadfast, in a speeding tale that doesn't often take a breath.

For we geocentric Americans, it's also fascinating to see Swedish crime and justice at work. Truth be told, it's not a lot different from America -- though perhaps somewhat better. Cops have plenty of time to pursue their cases, there's enough manpower to guard crime scenes, and the Swedes are straight enough to worry about the minor suppression of evidence, which wouldn't cause a second thought here in the states.

And for those who like surprises, the ending absolutely kills.

The downside: Perhaps it's just me, but it would be nice for once to see a veteran detective painted as something other than a brooding, anti-social, single-minded workoholic. Okay, so maybe that's too much to ask for a character who's spent decades seeing the worst of humanity. Just saying...

Closing Arguments: Roslund and Hellstrom deliver a brutally intimate view of the European sex slave trade, witnessed not via report or public outcry, but through the pained eyes of the victims. That alone raises Box 21 to the exceptional levels of crime fiction.

Grade: A     

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