Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Box 21.
Life can be brutal, cruel, and harsh. Box 21 is a novel that shows just how brutal, cruel, and harsh life can be. It’s a thriller by the renowned Scandinavian authorial duo, Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, whose first collaboration was The Beast. This novel involves two main plot lines: one involves the illicit trade in sexual slaves from Lithuania, focusing on the plights of Lydia Grajsuskas and her friend Alena, who have been lured into prostitution with the promise of a better life in Stockholm. The other plot involves heroin addict Hilding Oldeus, recently released from prison. His spiking of the crystal meth and sulphate he sells 50/50 with washing powder results in a lead for police officer Sven Sundkvist and senior officer Ewert Grens that may expose a notorious mafia boss. The two stories together catalyze to create a powerfully intense page-turning thriller that can’t be put down.
The brutality of human trafficking and the degradation of the women forced into becoming prostitutes is given a name and a face by the authors in their characterizations of Lydia and Alena, in particular the abuse and whipping Lydia receives at the hands of her ruthless pimp, Dmitri. She becomes more real to readers as they look into her past, how her father was beaten by the Lithuanian police for daring to fly a flag of his country and later for being an arms dealer after losing his job in the military and seeing no other way to support his family. At the age of nine, Lydia sees her father beaten repeatedly on the head by the police while a gun is held to her head and her father says he’ll do anything to get the police to leave his daughter alone.
She vows to herself “Never again,” those words etched in white on the cover of the novel. It’s a cool touch - the words can barely be made out against the black that comprises most of the cover; you can only see them if you look closely. Lydia and Alena have been secretly squirreling away money clients have paid them on top of the regular fees their pimp demands, money earned for any extra twisted services their clients want them to provide for them, or for hitting them, or submitting to other degrading acts.
Lydia knows that in the basement of the apartments where she and Alena have been virtually imprisoned for three years, there are a gun and plastic explosives. When she awakes in a hospital after a severe whipping and beating delivered by Dmitri - 35 lashes in all - she asks Alena to help her get the money and a tape she’s made from the storage box they’ve been paying for: box 21. She also asks Alena to do whatever she can to get the gun and Semex hidden in the basement, bring them to the hospital and hide them in a trash can in the restroom. Lydia will use them to try to fight back and reclaim control of her destiny.
While jailed for his latest arrest, Hilding Oldeus befriends Jocum Lang, a notorious mob enforcer. They become more or less friendly in prison, but when Lang is asked to lean on Hilding after a crime boss learns that his daughter was one of the junkies whom Oldeus’s toxic drug mixture messed up, Lang puts friendship aside. He breaks Hilding’s fingers and his kneecap as asked, but the wheelchair Oldeus is in (pushed down the halls of the same hospital, coincidently, that Lydia is at) gets away from him and crashes down some stairs. Hilding is killed; much worse, a doctor witnesses Lang pushing Oldeus in the wheelchair. The doctor then becomes a target to prevent her from ID’ing Lang.
Box 21 is a taut international thriller by two of Scandinavia’s most talented up-and-coming authors. Several authors from Scandinavia have become internationally famous over the past few years - Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and A.C. Baantjer of the Netherlands. With Box 21, Roslund and Hellstrom make a strong bid to be added to the growing list of great crime writers coming from this region.