Barry Forshaw talks to Jens Lapidus about his Stockholm Noir trilogy
In his bijou Bloomsbury hotel room, Jens Lapidus is checking all the cupboards and drawers to make sure he's left nothing behind. He is to catch a four o'clock plane back to his beloved Stockholm, but before that there will be a lunch for him held in the chic restaurant now situated on top of what used to be the British Library Reading Room.
In terms of the current Scandinavian crime wave, the youthful, sharply dressed Lapidus could not be confused with any other writer. His métier? Certainly not overweight middle-aged detectives with diabetes and problematical daughters -- or facially-pierced Goth heroines with superhuman abilities.
The less-than-admirable protagonists of his remarkable Stockholm Noir trilogy are criminals or people who have unwisely mixed with the criminal underworld (usually via involvement with drugs); Lapidus is not really interested in the police procedural format or, for that matter, coppers -- when they do appear, they are as compromised and unheroic as most of his lawbreaking characters.
The other element that marks out Lapidus as treading a different path from most of his Scandinavian contemporaries is his flavoursome use of language -- Easy Money is written in an in-your-face combination of street argot, slang and new word coinage.
As we leave his hotel, I point out to him during our short walk to the British Museum that his book made me think of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, where the reader is obliged to adjust to the newly forged language of the book – a language they will not have encountered before.
‘Yes, I appreciate that the language of the book is a little challenging,’ Lapidus notes ruefully. ‘But it was immensely important for me to get the verbal interaction between these characters right. They have a particular way of talking – not like you or I -- and because I know it very well, it was important to me that I did justice to it.’
There is, of course, a reason why Lapidus knows this criminal language so well. As well as being one of the most striking and idiosyncratic crime writers of the new Nordic wave, he has another identity -- he is a highly successful criminal lawyer, and his clientele consists of precisely those individuals who populate the teeming pages of his novels. Is this one of the reasons why the books have such an air of verisimilitude?
‘I like to think that I am able to reproduce on the page all the levels of dealing with my clients,’ he says. ‘Theirs is a very different world to yours and mine, and I wanted to convey the truthfulness that -- for instance -- James Ellroy brings to his books.’ This is a mention of a writer who, in fact, has described Jens Lapidus as the second best crime writer in the world...after Ellroy himself, of course.
We enter the British Museum, and Lapidus marvels at the impressive white stone interiors cladding the historic British Library Reading Room. ‘I was last here as a boy,’ he says. Lapidus is in fact still remarkably boyish in appearance -- good-looking and well turned out; precisely, in fact, the kind of lawyer your average lawbreaker would want -- unless they were comfortable with someone a little more obviously street level.
As we tuck into medium/rare beef in the restaurant, Lapidus muses on the fact that he is actually sitting above the room where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital. But he himself is perfectly happy to be a genre writer. ‘Although I love my legal career, I'm really pleased that the Stockholm Noir trilogy has taken off and has given me a successful second string to my bow. There is already a highly successful Swedish film of Easy Money, and now Hollywood is knocking at the door regarding a remake.’
But will he be -- like most writers -- persona non grata when any new film of his work is made? And was he listened to when he expressed views about the making of the first film of Easy Money? ‘Oh,’ he replies, ‘they were very polite and asked all the right questions. Then they went out to make precisely the film they planned to make all along. But I'm not complaining; I was happy with the result -- the casting in particular, I thought was really intelligently done. They made the right choices for my characters.’
But ask Jens Lapidus if he plans to give up the legal career to concentrate on his writing, and he takes a few minutes to reply. ‘In a few years, perhaps I might focus on just the writing. But at the moment both my careers feed into each other in a particularly productive way -- and I have to confess to being stimulated by both.’
There are problems and issues in having two careers, though. Both at his hotel room and in the British Museum restaurant, Lapidus’ mobile phone has been repeatedly ringing. He checks who is calling and frowns -- but doesn't take the call. ‘It's the mother of one of my clients,’ he says. ‘I'll give her son's case my full attention when I'm back in Stockholm -- right now, I’m in London.’
How would his clients feel about the fact that he's having a meal in an expensive restaurant in London with his publishers? Shouldn't he be spending all his time doing his damnedest for his accused clients? ‘Oh, they all think that – of course they do,’ he says. ‘Every one of my clients expects me to be working for them one hundred per cent of the time -- which is not really surprising. And that's what I'll be doing when I'm back in Stockholm.’
With that, he grabs his travel bags and makes a decisive move. He smiles, and delivers his parting shot: ‘I just want to take a look at some corpses. The Egyptian mummies -- I remember them from when I was a boy.’ And then, with his Harrods bag and Bakelite suitcase, he's gone.