Three small-timers claw their way to the top of Stockholm’s vast cocaine empire, with predictably mixed results.
Chilean drug dealer Jorge Salinas Barrio sees no reason why he should serve out his jail time. Mrado Slovovic, the Yugoslavian chief of the city’s coat-check protection racket, is hungry for bigger things. Johan Westlund, an impoverished party boy, is plucked from obscurity by Abdulkarim Haij, who thinks he can sell drugs to his better-heeled friends. Once Jorge breaks out of prison, the places he and the other two ill-assorted heroes assume in crime boss Radovan Kranjic’s establishment change their dreams into ceaseless scheming. Since extortion, prostitution, drug smuggling and money laundering are something of a zero-sum game, each player can reach the top only by bringing down someone else. And even before Jorge, Mrado and JW become aware of each others’ existence, that’s exactly what they attempt. There are complications, of course. Mrado keeps fighting his ex-wife’s attempts to deny his joint custody of their daughter. The higher JW rises in the hierarchy, the more intently he searches for clues to the disappearance of his sister Camilla four years ago. Jorge, saved from death by JW’s offhanded intervention, swears eternal loyalty to him, even though eternal loyalty is unlikely to be rewarded. The rat-a-tat-tat rhythms of Lapidus’ prose, in Ahlander’s translation, aren’t for everyone. Yet the first-time novelist, an attorney who’s defended some of the most notorious figures in Sweden’s underworld, creates a magnetically rich, murky man’s world in which women are mostly chattel, the police remain mostly offstage and nothing is ever personal, just business. Inevitably, however, it’s their personal ties and quests that most endanger Jorge, Mrado and JW.
The closest models for this sprawling, ambitious debut are gangster movies from Scarface to Mesrine.