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Box 21 [Hardcover]

Anders Roslund
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 19 2009
The International Thriller that Stockholm City hailed as the Best Crime Novel of the Year has finally crossed the Atlantic!
 
Three years ago, Lydia and Alena were two hopeful girls from Lithuania. Now they are sex slaves, lured to Sweden with the promise of better jobs and then trapped in a Stockholm brothel, forced to repay their “debt.” Suddenly they are given an unexpected chance at freedom, and with it the opportunity to take revenge on their enslavers and reclaim the lives and dignity they once had. What will happen now that the tables are turned and the victims fight back?
 
In this masterful thriller, the celebrated team of Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström delve into the seedy underbelly of Stockholm. There we meet Lydia and Alena as they embark on a desperate plan to expose their captor and demand justice; police officers Sundkvist and Grens, on the trail of both Lydia’s enslavers and Jochum Lang, a notorious mob enforcer; and Hilding Oldéus, a junkie on what might be his last—and most destructive—bender. At the Söder Hospital, their destinies begin to converge in unexpected and explosive ways.
 
Box 21 is a Scandinavian thriller of the highest order: a mindblowing psychological drama written with powerful intensity. When it was published in Sweden, Solo called it “suspenseful, gripping, and intelligently written . . . Almost impossible to put down,” while SVT exclaimed: “Forget crime literature; this is, simply put, great literature!”

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Review

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The Swedish writing team of Roslund and Hellström make their U.S. debut with a remarkable tale of loss, addiction and revenge set in Stockholm’s seedy underworld. Ewert Grens, a veteran detective, is haunted by a tragic incident that occurred 25 years earlier that left his young wife, a fellow police officer, an invalid. When the man responsible, notorious criminal Jochum Lang, is released from prison, Grens vows to put him away for life. Meanwhile, the detective arrives at a crime scene where a teenage prostitute, Lydia Grajauskas, has been nearly beaten to death by her Russian pimp. Alternating chapters fill in the backstory of Lydia and Alena Sljusareva, girls lured away from Lithuania under false pretenses and sold as sex slaves. In a bizarre twist, Lydia escapes from her hospital bed and ends up taking hostages. This taut and nuanced thriller should appeal to fans of Mo Hayder, Denise Mina and, of course, Henning Mankell. (Oct.)
 
“What is it with Scandinavians and great crime writing? Something to do with the long nights, I guess. Box 21, with its sharply drawn cast of jaded cops, junkies, thugs, and victims, is a gripping tale of modern-day slavery, damage, and revenge, shocking and compelling in equal measure.” —Simon Lewis, author of Bad Traffic

About the Author

Anders Roslund is the founder and former head of Kulturnyheterna (Culture News) on Swedish Television. Börge Hellström is an ex-criminal who helps to rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts.


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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Guess And Guess Again May 11 2010
By Dave and Joe TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Here is a book that follows no formula and as such you keep guessing. The plot involves thugs, theives, pimps and whores, and is well drawn. Sometimes you wanted to have a shower after reading a few pages. The book has tension, fast pacing and an easy style. Good read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex June 14 2011
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Also published under the title "The Vault" in the UK

Book 2 in the Ewert Grens series

The novel holds two main stories that are dark, extraordinarily sad and definitely not for the faint at heart. Both threads involve one of Stockholm's best detectives Ewert Grens.

The first plot opens, with the release from prison of a notorious criminal; Jochum Lang. Detective Grens who has personal and professional reasons, feels Lang is a threat to the public, a hard core criminal and he makes it his mission to put him back behind bars. Grens strong feelings are based on an incident that happened twenty five years earlier. His colleague and girlfriend at the time was beaten to within an inch of her life and has been institutionalized ever since, a case that haunts him to this day. When Grens discovers that criminal bosses are hiring Lang as a strong arm he seizes the chance to send him back to prison.

The second plot is fast paced and full of credible action with a sad tone, another case Detective Grens is working in parallel that is demanding much of his time and skill. Lydia Grajauskas and Alena Sljusareva are two Lithuanian girls who have been tricked into leaving their country only to become sex slaves and property of the man they call Dimitri-Bastard-Pimp. We first learned about the girls when they are into a three year old nightmare servicing 12 clients a day, their moral at the extreme low and often beaten into submission. One day Lydia was so badly beaten that the neighbours called the police and was transported to the hospital. Her terrifying ordeal is revealed and at the same time she seizes the opportunity to fulfill a dream, take matters into her own hands and escape the hands of her captor.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A dull read - I don't recommend it April 13 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I thought this book was boring.
The main characters predictable, dull, & not likeable.
The best part about the book was it's ending, at least that was a little unexpected.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  60 reviews
69 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vikings Storm America's Literary Heartland Sept. 21 2009
By Daniel Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
With its unassuming title and Swedish origin, North American readers might be tempted to let Box 21 slide into the "maybe later" category of books. This would be a mistake for readers that have a serious interest in any of the following: crime thrillers, anthropology, social justice, women's rights, ethical conundrums, or, absent any of the above, fresh, potent, and innovative contemporary literature.

Like a kayaker or river rafter putting in on an unknown river, the reader of Box 21 will experience maximum excitement and tension if he or she dips their oar without much knowledge of the rocks, rapids, waterfalls, and vortexes that wait downstream. A skeletal outline of the plot: Set in contemporary Stockholm, Box 21 pits two detectives, one cynical and bitter, one idealistic and philosophical, against two plot strands that are only loosely intertwined: a death related to heroin addiction, and two deaths related to sexual slavery. In the unfolding of the plot, the reader is deeply immersed in the graphically portrayed worlds of drug addiction, and the world of kidnapping women from developing nations and inducting them into the sexual slavery of prostitution. The story is told in almost excruciatingly sharp focus, authors Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom disdain the use of the use of any literary airbrushing that might lessen the impact on the reader.

The gritty adherence to realism in this novel is not accidental. Borge Hellstrom is a recovering drug addict that has done jail time for his drug-related crimes. Currently working to rehabilitate young criminals and/or drug addicts, there is a soul-scalding immediacy to his descriptions of an addicted young man teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Anders Roslund developed the Swedish TV show Culture News. While some authors of fiction might introduce the topic of sexual slavery with overtones of salaciousness, sensationalism, or (shiver) even romance, Roslund approaches the topic with all the delicacy and subtlety of a hard swung baseball bat impacting on the body of the victim. The Roslund-Hellstrom team writes, I'm guessing, not simply to entertain, but to engage and to enrage the reader. Intentionally or not, they succeed. They have a message, and they want it heard at high volume and with clarity. We all love a book that is written well enough to make us laugh out loud, or to cry. At one point in the book, I seriously frightened my wife by leaping off the couch where I was reading and shouting "NO, God damn it!" It was the first time I've ever reacted to a book that way, and after a slightly heated reaction by my wife, a promised last time.

A centerpiece of the book, done masterfully by Roslund/Hellstrom, is ethical dilemma. No spoilers here, just a promise: Box 21 will twist your conscience into pretzels and Mobius strips. It will indirectly raise the question of whether it is appropriate to have men (as a gender) involved in the prosecution of sex crimes.

Three yellow flags: First, Jane Jakeman, in reviewing a previous Roslund/Hellstrom collaboration called The Beast, says "The reader will need a strong stomach". Heed her words. Second, either through the effects of translation, or cultural differences between Sweden and the U.S, or maybe both, the cadence of the novel takes a bit of adaptation. The sensation for me was similar to the first ten minutes of a Shakespeare play or a movie with subtitles: mild irritation, which then rapidly becomes unnoticeable. Finally, the stylistic elements of Box 21 are rough-edged, and often raw. Guernica, Picasso's painting commissioned to show the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, had similar elements. Think Stockholm instead of the Spanish town of Guernica, and sexual slavery and drug-related crime instead of civil war: the blunt and graphic images of both Guernica and Box 21 are deeply effective at achieving their goals. And both are truly art.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drug addiction, sex slavery, thuggery, lies, secrets, and police corruption in Stockholm Sept. 5 2009
By Joseph Haschka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
BOX 21 is an exemplary crime novel. But it sure doesn't tempt me to visit Stockholm.

The hero, if there is one, is Ewert Grens, a grizzled, insufferably rude investigator of the Stockholm PD who's only tolerated because he's also the best. Twenty-five years previously, the love of his life, fellow officer Anni, received severe skull injuries while trying to apprehend the notorious thug, Jochum Lang. Anni now hangs on in a long-term care facility, and Lang is about to be released from prison. Loneliness and bitterness control Ewert's life.

Lydia Grajauskas, along with Alena Sljusareva, are two young women who've been confined, humiliated and sexually debauched for the past three years after having been lured to Sweden from Lithuania. Now, Lydia is hospitalized unconscious after being severely flogged and her arm broken by her pimp. The noise alerted the neighbors who called the police, including Grens. While recovering, Lydia vows it will not happen again; she implements an ingenious plan for vengeance.

Hilding Oldéus is a drug addict who's hit bottom. He's hospitalized after overdosing in a photo booth of the central train station, but not before selling heroin he's cut with washing detergent to the niece of his supplier. She dies, and the brutal enforcer Lang is sent to teach Oldéus a meaningful lesson.

The paths of Ewert, Hilding, Jochum and Lydia all intersect at Söder Hospital.

BOX 21 is a forceful and original psychological sortie into Stockholm's underbelly. The reader who prefers a happy ending, or at least one in which justice universally prevails, may find this atypical novel depressing. On the other hand, BOX 21 is perhaps more reflective of real life, in which wrongs are only haphazardly made right, heinous crime sometimes goes unpunished, the guilt from failed family relationships can destroy the psyche, friendship's obligations can corrupt, and life's disappointments can be as corrosive as acid.

I liked BOX 21 very much, but it wasn't - and isn't - a feel-good read.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping Feb. 12 2010
By Aderyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I really think approaching this novel as simply a crime story, thriller, or detective novel is too shallow. Granted, all of those elements are present, but they aren't the heart of the book. Its heart is in its multidimensional characters, living their sloppy, imperfect lives just as we all do, against a backdrop of grim police work and the international sex slave trade. I can only hope that some of the readers who found it too graphic and violent have seen some of the real-life news coverage about sex slaves, young women tempted with promises of high-paying jobs in other countries who find themselves trapped with no hope of escape. The author seems to have gotten this exactly right.

Granted, this is a bleak novel. No one is saved in the end, no one is better for their experience. It poses many questions and offers no answers. However, like all good art, it will command your attention, extract an emotional response, and remain with you long after you read it.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious Thriller with Flat Characters and a Predictable Ending Sept. 10 2009
By Carrie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book arrived with all kinds of promise . . . ."Best crime novel of the year" . . ."a mind blowing psychological drama" and "suspenseful, gripping and intelligently written".

Somehow, I missed the party. The book starts out by slowly and awkwardly introducing its characters who never get beyond flat and characterless. Even after 100 pages of descriptions of activities of these uninteresting people, I never really cared about them because the authors never bothered to give them any depth.

For instance, the authors introduce police officer Ewert Grens and let us know that he mourns the loss of Anni because he relives her life-changing accident over and over and over and over. But, the readers aren't given real insight into Anni and Ewert's relationship in order to grieve with him or to understand him. The closest we come to really getting to know a character is the prostitute, Lydia Grajauskas, but the authors arranged their narrative so that we don't know much about Lydia until the end of the book, and, unfortunately, by then we have lost interest.

And, the ending. So very predictable.

This book has potential - the bones are there. A better narrative and three dimensional characters could have made the book a winner.

Maybe it's the translation. Maybe not. I love a good thriller, but this book just never gripped me so that I didn't want to put it down. I cannot recommend it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Several thousand young women...from Eastern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of lives! The illegal sex trade with the West." Oct. 13 2009
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The grisly lives of innocent, sixteen- and seventeen-year-old Lithuanian girls, tricked into leaving their homeland on the promise of good jobs, unfold in tawdry detail as Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom focus on the sex trade, its clientele, the financial syndicates which profit from it, the enforcers who protect it, and the police and others who allow it to flourish. Lydia Grajauskas, a "pro" with three years of experience by the age of twenty, serves twelve customers a day, earning almost no income except what she can negotiate with her customers for "extras." Living in an apartment which a Russian with a diplomatic passport claims as Lithuanian territory, exempt from Swedish laws, Lydia can expect little help from the local police. Until she is beaten within an inch of her life.

Ewert Grens, a veteran police inspector in charge of the investigation, has several other issues to deal with. Twenty-five years ago, Jochum Lang, a sadistic drug dealer and Mafia hitman, dragged Ewert's partner and lover Anni out of the back of the police van Ewert was driving, and she suffered catastrophic injuries. Lang is about to be released from prison, and Ewert still seeks vengeance against him. The two plot lines converge when Lang appears at the hospital where Lydia is recuperating. Before long, the hospital is in lockdown.

Roslund and Hellstrom humanize this drama by alternating the focus between the two stories, giving background information about all the key characters. Ewert Grens lives the life of a hermit, his only friend being fellow-officer Bengt Nordwall and his wife Lena. Lydia's friend Alena still pines for Janoz, her lover back home, and both girls are hoping to escape their bondage and return to Lithuania. Hilding Oldeus, a drug addict who was protected by Jochum Lang when he was in jail, shares the torments of addiction and its effects on his family members, becoming a focus of the novel when Lang is released from jail. Sven Sundkvist, Ewert Grens's current partner, a truly ethical man, is the conscience of the novel.

Though the novel describes the sadistic sexual practices of the prostitutes' handlers and their customers, it is otherwise a traditional mystery/thriller. The focus is on the drama and the plot, with little attention to deep themes and no suggestion that the issues at the heart of the novel are being addressed in any organized fashion by the government. The problems of witness intimidation, police corruption, and the police bending of the truth to get a conviction, standard complications of most police procedurals, appear here. The novel is sometimes marred by clichés, both in its plot and in its ponderous observations. Statements like "This must never happen again," and "Truth is the only thing people can bear to live with in the long run," state the obvious and add nothing to the drama or to any thematic development. The novel's fully described sexual crimes against minors show the authors' clear empathy with these girls, creating a novel which has the feel of a shocking, journalistic expose. Mary Whipple
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