MYSTERY: Superior storytelling by Swedish duo


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There's a bumper crop of "next Stieg Larssons" out there, most of them heirs to nothing but publisher greed and wishful thinking. But Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström have a legitimate shot at the Scandinavian title.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/02/2011 (4430 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s a bumper crop of “next Stieg Larssons” out there, most of them heirs to nothing but publisher greed and wishful thinking. But Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström have a legitimate shot at the Scandinavian title.

Three Seconds (SilverOak, 496 pages, $30), a fifth outing by the Swedish journo/ex-crim duo, offers broad similarities with Larsson. Official corruption and situational morality are targeted, here the deniable toleration of misdeeds by police informants in the service of grander crime-fighting goals. In dumpy, irascible police Supt. Ewert Grens, suspended “between a breakdown and madness,” an obsessive outsider threatens to bring down the official house of cards. And, as with Larsson, there is irksome repetition and pedantry.

True, the book spawns nothing like Lisbeth Salander, the iconic post-modern heroine of Larsson’s otherwise conventional and bloated trilogy. But, aided by a fine English translation, its ingenious plotting, searing glimpse of prison and drug-trade life and dark, visceral portrayals of informant, handler and homicide cop all make for superior storytelling.

— — —

A Toronto commercial designer, marketing guy and photographer, Scott Thornley has a keen eye for what sells. With his debut novel, Erasing Memory (Random House, 320 pages, $30), that’s both good and bad.

On the plus side is a nicely crafted murder procedural (a young violin prodigy injected with battery acid), an approachable hero in Det.-Supt. (no-first-name) MacNeice, some realistic cop dialogue and a familiar Ontario setting — a stand-in for Thornley’s native Hamilton.

From there, though, it’s a downhill cliché run: a memory-ravaged widower cop ruffled by his sexy subordinate (who ends up in his shower and shirt), a secret formula (from a disastrous Romanian chemical-warfare experiment), a Bulgarian assassin, a dictator’s illegitimate daughter, suicide pills, et al. Still, there’s a nascent talent here, one that could flourish if Thornley gears down and steers off the hyperbolic path.

— — —

Americans just can’t seem to get enough of their fantasy alter-egos — strong, silent vigilante cowboys in the modern guise of renegade soldier, spy, cop or P.I. Joe Pike is all of those, sort of, which must explain L.A. author Robert Crais’ decision to give him the series treatment over his quirkier, more nuanced creation, self-styled “World’s Greatest Detective” Elvis Cole.

More’s the pity, since Cole serves as trusty sidekick in The Sentry (Putnam, 320 pages, $34), offering the only levity in an otherwise leaden tale. Hard to have snappy dialogue if your hero doesn’t talk much.

There’s no real rhyme or reason to Pike’s shoot-’em-up efforts to protect, and then rescue, a sandwich-shop waitress and her partner from gangbangers, bent feds, cartel hoods and a Bolivian assassin who (yup) hears voices. Not when he quickly discovers they’ve stolen millions in drug money and played him for a patsy. Must be a guy thing.

But it all works out, as you knew it would, with even some man-hugs and manlier tears thrown in. Wait for the movie.

— — —

Crime-fiction purists and old-school T. Jefferson Parker fans will likely hate The Border Lords (Dutton, 384 pages, $34), though the So-Cal author has ventured further into the Twilight Zone with each of his three previous Charlie Hood novels.

As Parker has said, the L.A. sheriff’s deputy is merely “a good reliable witness to events,” here to an undercover agent’s feverish, chaotic and bloody descent into madness and a one-man war against the cross-border guns-and-drugs trade. As Hood and his team attempt to capture and save their friend from himself, the same madness seems to engulf the agent’s wife, firing a tortuous paen to love, faith, commitment and morality.

That all of this is laced with threads of supernatural missions, creatures and foreboding is no doubt where the train will leave the track for mainstream readers. But Parker, the old hand, is clearly betting enough will follow him into uncharted territory.

John Sullivan is editor of the Free Press Autos, Homes and Travel sections and specialty websites.

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