Debut Novel Sets New Tone in Swedish Crime Fiction


STOCKHOLM - Readers of Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell have long associated Swedish crime fiction with serene landscapes, tired police inspectors and serial killers.

But in his debut novel, "Easy Money," crime writer Jens Lapidus breaks with that tradition. Instead, the 37-year-old criminal lawyer has produced a realistic, fast-paced novel about Stockholm's organized crime, seen through the eyes of the drug dealers and gang leaders he normally represents in court.

"I guess I am the next generation in crime. What I write is a kind of reaction to the traditional, what I experience as a little bit hackneyed," Lapidus told The Associated Press over a coffee in Stockholm on Thursday. "I haven't been inspired by the Scandinavian at all in my writing, but rather seen it as my antithesis."

Of course, that doesn't mean he wouldn't like to match the over-the-top sales of works such as Larsson's Millennium trilogy and Mankell's Wallander novels. In fact, Lapidus admits the hype around Scandinavian crime novels has helped open up a lot of doors for him.

"Easy Money," which was released in the U.K. last month and will go on sale in the U.S. on April 3, follows a Latino drug dealer, a Serbian henchman and a young Swede whose desperate quest for money to uphold a luxurious lifestyle takes him on a journey through Stockholm's underworld. It is the first book in Lapidus' so-called Stockholm noir trilogy, which is being translated into around 30 languages after it sold 1.5 million copies in Sweden.

The book was inspired by Lapidus' work in a Stockholm court. It stands out for using the perspective of the bad guys, but also for its descriptions of the class divides, harsh individualism and materialism that have become increasingly visible in the Swedish capital in recent years and contrasts with the traditional image of the egalitarian Nordic society.

"I think there is an image that lives on, that is 20-30 years old, of a strong Swedish welfare state, an image that maybe emerged in the 1960s and 70s," Lapidus said. "I don't think that image has been true for a very, very long time. It is an old cliche."

"Relatively speaking, the idea that Stockholm is a fairly peaceful and good place is probably true, but it is not as true as people have previously thought. The problems that exist in both American and European big cities exist here, too," he said.

Still Lapidus, who has continued to work as a criminal lawyer alongside his career as an author, said he doesn't want to engage in too much social commentary.

"I am no politician. Even if my books are critical toward society, I don't point fingers and say what the right direction is. On the contrary, I try to stand back in the books and avoid moralizing," he said.

The Swedish version of "Easy Money" was released in 2006, but translation problems delayed the English-language publication by at least two years, Lapidus said. A first translation of the book's hard-boiled language, that is infused with suburban slang and accents of various immigrant groups, didn't work, and the publisher had to hire a second translator.

Meanwhile, the book was successfully adapted into a Swedish-language film and rights for a Hollywood remake were sold to Warner Bros. The Swedish movie also helped spur international careers for director Daniel Espinoza, who directed the Hollywood production "Safe House" with Denzel Washington and lead actor Joel Kinnaman - now lined up for the title role in the remake of "RoboCop."

In Sweden, "Easy Money" and its two sequels got so popular that Lapidus also became a well-known name in the circles he describes. He said the books in his trilogy have been the most borrowed ones in Swedish prison libraries for several years and that clients sometimes request him as a lawyer after reading "Easy Money."

"I held a seminar for a group of police in southern Stockholm and one policeman said that every time they do a raid against a gang member in Stockholm's southern suburbs they find two things; a poster of Al Paccino in "Scarface" and one of my books."

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