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.
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My rating 2/5
Author website http://www.roslund-hellstrom.com/
Translator Kari Dickson
Narrator Christopher Lane
Publisher Quercus [this edition 2011, original edition 2010]
ISBN n/a downloaded from audible.com
Length 15 hours 47 minutes
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