Review: Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

In brief the book is about two men. Piet Hoffmann is living a confusing triple life in which his wife thinks he works for a security firm when in reality he is former criminal and current undercover agent for the Swedish police and has infiltrated a Polish drug-running organisation. At the very beginning of the book he is present at a drug deal which goes wrong when one of the trigger-happy participants shoots the buyer who, it turns out, was another infiltrator (this time of the Danish police). Ewert Grens is the dysfunctional-but-brilliant policeman who is called in to investigate the death. Apparently his reputation and methods (which mostly involve lying on the floor and thinking) scare the willies out of the police people responsible for handling Hoffman. They are, as it happens, not as above board as one might hope for in one’s law enforcement officers and they work to ensure that Grens does not discover Hoffman’s presence at the shooting or the reason for that presence. Even if they have to sacrifice Hoffman to save their own skins.

Genre fiction tends to be driven by either plot or character or, if the reader is really lucky, both. For me, Three Seconds was neither. If anything it was driven, at funereal speed, by a series of excruciating details. I’ve been kept on the edge of my seat by books about banking, horse-racing and dentistry not because those subjects interest me in the slightest but because the author made me interested, at least for the span of the book. Here there were just details. Never. Ending. Details. About how to swallow lots of drug-filled condoms (and how to regurgitate them again), how to weigh and cut drugs, how to insert a digital recorder into your anus, how to take over the drug distribution channels inside a country’s prison system. At the end I am closer than I ever wanted to be to excelling at a career as a drug distributor but do not consider myself particularly well entertained.

There was probably a gripping story somewhere in Three Seconds but at an actual 56,820 seconds long it was bloody hard to find. This book needed a serious amount of editing, especially in its first two thirds. It also needed some characters with depth so that I cared enough to learn their fate. I admit I started the book not liking Grens due to his behaviour in the previous book which was at odds with the ‘honest cop’ persona created for him. Perhaps if you haven’t read that book or are more easily able to forget his behaviour in it you will not find Grens the pathetic hypocrite that I did. But seriously the man can barely function enough to hold a minute-long conversation for heaven’s sake so I found it a stretch to accept his depiction as brilliant or honest. Hoffman, in the end, is shallow too. There’s so much time taken up describing what he does that there’s little time for why and that is mostly of the whiney ‘none of this is my fault’ kind of stuff that bores me witless. If a character can’t be honest with himself when his thoughts are being depicted as Hoffman’s are early on in this book then I’m not terribly interested in anything else he does.

Although I did start the book feeling less than favourable to Ewert Grens I was really looking forward to it as its predecessor was one of only four 5-star reads I’ve had this year. That, and the fact the book has won many accolades in its own right including being shortlisted for the 2011 CWA International Dagger Award, is why I kept on listening long past the point at which I would normally have given up. But even though I persevered to the end I missed whatever it is that others have seen in this one. For me it read like one long information dump and lacked the connecting human warmth I look for. It probably didn’t help that there’s no victim to speak of and barely a female presence in the entire thing (seriously the woman with the biggest presence in the story has been in a vegetative state for twenty years). The final third of the book actually had a vaguely decent pace and storyline but by then I’m afraid the damage had been done for me and I sighed with relief when it was all over.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

This book has been reviewed far more favourably almost everywhere including at Crime ScrapsEuro Crime, How Mysterious, Kittling: BooksMysteries in Paradise

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2/5
Author website
Translator Kari Dickson
Narrator Christopher Lane
Publisher Quercus [this edition 2011, original edition 2010]
ISBN n/a downloaded from
Length 15 hours 47 minutes
Format mp3
Book Series #5 in the Grens and Sundkvist series (though only 3 have been translated into English and Sundkvist plays only a very minor role in this outing)
Source I bought it

This entry was posted in Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström, book review, Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Review: Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – Thanks very much, as always, for your thoughtful review and for your candor. I have to admit, I haven’t read this one yet, and had heard a variety of different things about it. Not sure if I’ll read it, but it means a lot to me to know what you thought of it.


  2. Keishon says:

    Oh, wow, a dissenting opinion. I just love those. I have this to read sometime this year.


  3. Kathy D. says:

    Thanks for your honest and incisive review. I wonder why this book got such good reviews — and more importantly, why it was nominated for a Dagger; the latter is especially annoying because so much more translated crime fiction was more worthy of anomination than this book. I wonder what the judges were thinking.
    A friend grabbed this from me before I read it. I asked her how she liked it. She replied, “it’s boring.”


    • Kathy it wouldn’t be art if there weren’t wildly differing opinions about it and there’s no earthly reason to think my opinion is any more correct than the others. Of course I am surprised now to see it in the Dagger shortlist when I can think of at least two books which I thought much better but I’m sure other people would think the same about my choices.


  4. Kathy D. says:

    Of course personal taste is an issue in reading, like art, music, decor, dress, and everything else (especially movies!). However, you and other pre-eminent blogger/writers have mentioned the need for much more editing in this book. That doesn’t seem to be subjective.
    I’ll wait and see what others think, and I’ll read it, too.
    I don’t expect uniform opinions on books, but usually if several people mention the same points, they are valid.


  5. Norman says:

    Bernadette, isn’t it wonderful that we all have such different opinions. Sniper rifles, drugs, guns, explosives- I thought Three Seconds was a great read, like a modern version of those old time adventure stories for boys.
    Perhaps that is why you did not like it. ;o)


  6. Maxine says:

    I reviewed this book for Euro Crime so was kinder to it than I might have been had I reviewed it on my own blog. I agree with many, if not all, of your points. I did enjoy the book more than you, I think because I went into it determined to enjoy it (or otherwise stop reading it!). I found the first half very slow and confusing – not that I was confused but the convolutions you run through in the first para of your review mean that the plot actually did not make sense in terms of who was telling who (or not telling who) what.

    I thought the second half much better, when he sets up his prison sentence and then gets into prison. However, the logic still does not work properly, eg depends on the 100 per cent efficiency of his library demand and the library service; and the planned escape is also too “with one bound he was free” (rather like the suspect’s escape in Fred Vargas’s An Uncertain Place – it “just happens”).

    For me the worst part was Piet himself who is obviously supposed to be a sympathetic character as shown by the chocolate-boxy oversweet interludes with his wife and child(ren?). This is a familar device of Hollywood – show someone being cute with cute children and all is forgiven because actually he is really cute deep down inside even though his activities have resulted in many drug addictions and deaths (even though undercover, he has to participate to be convincing – there has to be a better way!).

    Oh well, as I say I was willing to put a lot of this aside and just enjoy the book, ignoring its many plot pitfalls – this is the attitude I take when I agree to review a book (rather than just buy it and review it myself, in which case anything goes or I choose not to review it at all). But, if I had wanted to be criticial of it, there is certainly lots to be critical about.


  7. Maxine says:

    PS To Bernadette and Kathy – The Dinosaur Feather by Sissal-Jo Gazan is a book that desperately needs to be half the length. Just a little heads-up 😉


    • Thanks Maxine – I’m going to skip that one then. I have little patience for rambling at present. I swear I am going to start a SAVE THE EDITORS campaign.


  8. Kathy D. says:

    Oy! My friends who are editors and copy-editors will cringe at the need for editing in Three Seconds and The Dinosaur Feather. (I have an awful habit of doing corrections on the page when I catch them.)

    An fyi: I still cannot access Fair Dinkum. I typed it into the Google search box, typed http into address box, tried to get there from MIP and from Friend Feed to no avail. Any ideas? (Also, as I’m about to buy some books from Amazon, does it matter where I start with Leah Giarratano, Margie Orford, Kathryn Fox? And, are S.J. Bolton’s books frightening?) Thanks much for your blogs.


    • Kathy I’ve sent you a long email of what I suspect looks like gobbledy gook to help you fix your problem – I’m afraid it’s the only answer I know and is all to do with the way some kinds of routers cache information. If you have a techy/geeky friend they will be fine with the instructions but if you don’t feel comfortable doing it then don’t.

      As for the books – I think Leah Giarratano’s books can probably be started anywhere – the first one does give a lot more of Jill’s background but you could skip it and still get a sense of it (there are always references made in the later books). I wouldn’t start with book 2 though – start at 3 or 4 which are both quite different (Leah is working on a young adult book now so it might be a while before she gets back to this series).

      Margie Orford – I’ve only read one – I think it was number 2 and it didn’t seem to make that much difference that I hadn’t read the first one.

      Kathryn Fox – Start anywhere really – the series is only very loose – the last one DEATH MASK is the best so far

      I have loved both of S J Bolton’s books that I’ve read and am eager to get to number 3 – I don’t find them frightening but I’m hard to scare – there are lots of snakes in the second one


  9. I was more favorable than you, but only for the second half. The first half should’ve been the first quarter, or eighth!


  10. Kathy D. says:

    Thanks. I’m going to try all steps to get to Fair Dinkum, including bribing my friend’s granddaughter to do this.
    Thanks on the authors, I’ll see what’s available. The library some three of Fox’s so that’s good. Okay I’ll try S.J. Bolton’s, will ponder over the snake one though. And I’ll try Belinda Bauer, and somehow I had her and Bolton mixed-up.
    Right now am trying to get through Adelia’s autopsies of three children. A tough thing.
    Eurocrime’s cat, Foxy, is less of a scaredy cat than I am.


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  17. Cayle says:

    It’s really great that people are sharing this inmforaiton.


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