Easy Money, the first of a trilogy of Swedish crime novels by criminal defence lawyer Jens Lapidus, arrived in English translation last year. The book has sold more than a million copies in Sweden – a nation of nine million people. A Swedish film has already been released, and an American remake is underway. Comparisons with Stieg Larsson are now inevitable for any Scandinavian author published internationally, and Lapidus has not escaped.
Unlike the Larsson books, however, Easy Money has no heroes, no detectives and not much interest in solving mysteries. Instead, Lapidus focuses on the hidden worlds of Stockholm’s organised crime. The plot follows three main characters: a low-level criminal imprisoned on false evidence, a poor student moonlighting as a cab driver to fund a lavish lifestyle, and a Yugoslavian mob enforcer trying to stay in his boss’s affections. Each character is driven by a desire for money and status, but also by more personal quests for revenge, the search for a lost sister, and a custody battle. The cocaine trade draws the three men together, but none of them understands what the others are capable of.
Lapidus’ writing style is clipped and disjointed, full of two-word sentences and slang-heavy dialogue. Court transcripts and police reports are quoted to deliver additional information unknown to the main characters, a clever idea used to good effect. Violence is frequent and extreme. Bulging muscles, workout routines and the minutiae of Stockholm style are described in lavish detail. Fans of underworld novels and “true crime” will not be disappointed in Easy Money. Lapidus delivers a tight plot with tough, ultra-masculine characters, scary villains and gory brawls, supposedly inspired by his encounters with real criminals. There is nothing new here, despite the hype, and the reader is unlikely to learn much about Swedish society, but the right audience will find plenty to enjoy.