The Vault (a.k.a. Box 21)
Roslund-Hellstrom (Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström)
The Vault is a very dark book indeed, a compelling, fast-paced and fresh take on those well-worn staples of crime-fiction: the hostage drama and sex-trafficking. It is also a police procedural, told with relentless cynicism. I think it’s an excellent novel, but you have been warned!
There are two main strands to the plot. One concerns middle-aged senior police detective Ewart Grens, a man who is like the living dead since the injuries suffered by his colleague and partner Anni 25 years ago have reduced her to a brain-damaged paraplegic. Grens is an obsessive loner, rarely going home from his office where he listens non-stop to music sung by 1960s pop star Siw Malmqvist, and is an enigma to his colleagues (two of whom, Sven Sundqvist and Bengt Nordwall, are the closest he has to friends).
Desperately unhappy and depressed, Grens is a superb, workaholic detective who has solved vast numbers of crimes- but is fanatically concerned with one criminal in particular, Jochum Lang, the man who was responsible for Anni’s condition, but who received only a short sentence at the time. Lang is an “enforcer” for organised criminals who has been in and out of prison over the intervening years, escaping with light sentences because he and his associates terrorise witnesses. Grens is determined to see Lang put away for good, and seizes an opportunity presented by an attack on a petty drug-dealer. Grens pursues his monomaniacal goal to the expense of everyone and everything, trampling over a witness’s sensitivities as well as the truth in his desperate pursuit of his one goal – a goal which is pointless so far as as Anni herself is concerned, as she will never be able to understand anything.
The second story is that of Lydia and Alena, who as young teenagers have been conned into leaving their native Lithuania to come to Sweden in search of work – but who instead have been sold into sex slavery. The girls’ ordeal is unbearably horrific as they are repeatedly brutalised by their ghastly pimp and their “clients”, a tale told in a fatalistic, nonsensational way which makes it almost unbearable to read – especially as it is clear that their story is repeated many, many times over for other poor girls. One day their grim lives reach a horrible climax that brings them directly into contact with Grens and his colleagues. The twists and turns of the resultant events are simultaneously exciting and sad.
I think this book is quite brilliant, most particularly in the story of the tragic Lydia, both in the present day and in the past, as she remembers her younger life and as Sundqvist finds out the details of her betrayal. It made me very angry indeed as the authors explore to the limit the extent to which the police bind together to protect their own, and how in so doing they are betraying those weaker victims of society who not only need their protection the most, but who the police are entrusted to serve. The decisions made mainly by Grens but also by his younger colleague Sundqvist, are horribly misguided, leaving me shaken. The final pages of the novel leave the reader in no doubt as to the extent of the evil ramifications that can occur when people who should know better take matters into their own hands for their own reasons – but who cannot know the full story or understand (because of their personal involvements and weaknesses) the entire picture.
One aspect of this novel that intrigues me is that no translator is mentioned, either in the book's title page or the copyright statement. The authors' previous novel, The Beast, so far the only other one available in English, was translated by Anna Paterson (who has also translated Karin Alvtegen among others). I can only surmise that the authors wrote The Vault in English as well as Swedish themselves.
Borge Hellstrom is an ex-criminal who helps to rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts. He is a founder member of KRIS (criminals return into society), a non-profit association which assists newly released prisoners. Anders Roslund is founder and former head of Kulturnyheterna (Culture News) on Swedish TV. He was for many years head of news at Aktuellt (Channel 1) and a prizewinning investigative reporter. Roslund and Hellstrom have a website, where you can read about the five books they have written so far, about Siw Malmqvist, and other news and information. There are links to reviews (in English) of "Box 21", as The Vault is called in the USA, including some in the US newspapers. (I think Box 21 is a more apt title than The Vault, incidentally.)
Scandinavian Crime Fiction review of Box 21 (provides a link to their review of The Beast).