Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Box 21 by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

Title: Box 21
Authors: Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books, 2009
Genre: Police Procedural
Rating: A

First Line: She clung to her mother's hand.

If you prefer to read books which are basically positive and all turns out right in the end, you shouldn't touch Box 21 with the proverbial barge pole. However, if you like reading a book that gets its hooks in you from the very start and doesn't turn you loose until days after you've turned the last page, this is the book for you.

I am a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction, so there was very little doubt that I'd be reading this book once I learned of its existence. Anders Roslund is the founder and former head of Culture News on Swedish Television, and co-author Börge Hellström is an ex-criminal who helps rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts. They have turned what would be a few sound bites and appropriate facial expressions on the evening news into a gritty, hard-hitting and ultimately heart-breaking look into the world of sex slavery, drugs and revenge.

Lydia Grajauskas and Alena Sljusareva are two young Lithuanian women lured into sex slavery by the promise of good jobs in Sweden. Ewert Grens is a tough, hardened Swedish detective who's determined to put Jochum Lang behind bars for the rest of his life. (Twenty-five years ago Lang was responsible for the accident which caused permanent brain damage to Grens' wife.) Bengt Nordwall is Grens' mentor, and Sven Sundkvist is Grens' partner in the Stockholm police. Added to this mix is Hilding Oldéus, a desperate drug addict. All these characters converge at Söder Hospital.

There is so much going on in Box 21 that it's difficult to talk about the book without giving too much away. I'm going to try my best to leave the plot as something for you to discover on your own. Halfway through the book, the action comes to an explosive climax, and I was puzzled. What in the world could the last half of the book be about? After the first half, it was bound to be a tremendous letdown.

When I am wrong, I am spectacularly wrong.

Within a very few pages, the subplots are being explored, and many more layers of character are revealed in each of the players. The book zigzags through the past and the present. The suspense continues to build as do nuance and detail. Although the plot of Box 21 settles down, more or less, into a straight line, the ending is one that's going to shock many readers.

As I read this book, I couldn't help but be reminded of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series. Here, too, the abuse of women is a fundamental theme. But where Larsson's series gives the reader a glimmer of hope for the future because of characters who continue to fight for right against the odds, Box 21 seems to hold no hope. All the characters seem shrouded in the perpetual gloom of bad choices, cynicism and evil.

I found Box 21 to be totally engrossing in plot, pacing, characterization, setting, detail-- many times I felt as though I were a passenger in a plane that was about to crash-- and only two small details kept it from being a "Wow!" book for me. The first fifty pages or so read awkwardly, and it took me a while to become familiar with the cadence and phrasing. (No translator is listed for the book.) The other small detail? The end didn't shock me. Sometimes I'm more cynical than I'd like to be.

Box 21 is grim. It's brutal. It certainly isn't pretty. It is compulsive reading, and the cynical side of my nature has the feeling that its story is much closer to truth than fiction in the worlds of addiction, victimization and revenge.

*Review copy provided by the Amazon Vine program.


  1. Sounds utterly engrossing! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I just added this to my wish list because I love books that stay in my thoughts for days, I'm of Lithuanian descent and your review is fantastic.

  3. Now I have to admit I'm 50-50 on whether or not to read the book, but I had to say that this was a wonderfully written review. I think I'd have to be in the right mood to read this without sinking into a terrifyingly sad mood.

  4. Great Review Cathy. I've already checked Book Depository and it's available though a bit expensive in hard cover - but I'll wait until the paperback is available then pounce.

  5. Margot-- You're welcome!

    Kathy-- Just make sure you read it when you're in the right frame of mind for it. It could be very depressing!

    Trisha--You're right about that. If I were sad or depressed, this would be one of the last books I'd want to pick up.

    Bernadette--I'll look forward to your review. You and I usually see eye-to-eye on books, with only an occasional difference of opinion to add some spice. :)

  6. Wow, Cathy, what a review! You've sold me on this one, hands down!


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!