In crime thrillers underworld kingpins live in notorious cities. Jens Lapidus's Easy Money introduces the new kid on the block — Stockholm, where the criminal syndicate prowls affluent neighbourhoods, poor boroughs and projects.
Going by the title of the book you will be forgiven for thinking you are about to devour a book filled with 1,001 tips on how to make a quick buck. Well, you aren't far off the mark, because you will learn a thing or two about running a business, such as maximising profit margins, demand-and-supply dynamics, developing marketing strategies and how to cut off competitors. However, be wary of those doling out advice.
All along I have been telling myself that Scandinavia is a peaceful place. I was first introduced to its dark side in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. With Easy Money, the message is clear: Stockholm is the new underworld capital.
Easy Money is a tale of violence, murder, shady businesses, rivalry and revenge. Lapidus spins a yarn from the perspectives of three Stockholm residents — Mrado, a hard-boiled, trigger-happy Serb who has no problem breaking people's bones; Jorge, a Latino who gives the Five-O a run for their money; and JW, a Sven college student. What connects these characters is that they want to break into the big time and make millions. It is their quest for easy money and the trouble they are willing to go through that provide the meat of the story. They represent the social make-up of Stockholm, a cosmopolitan city that attracts people from various parts of the world. Also, there are different types of criminals: First, there are gangsters who are peddling drugs and are up in arms against each other. Then comes a breed of übercriminals, including Jet Set Carl and Swedish captains of industry who attend gentlemen's parties, and finally those who are on the fence, such as JW, the wannabe middle-class boy who hangs around with rich Stureplan kids.
Organised criminal groups and prison gangs all want a piece of the pie and will do anything to get ahead of the pack. Some of the scams involve members of the respected "upper world", even the Swedish royal family. Clearly, there are no good guys. Only one cop goes undercover as part of the Nova project, but doesn't uncover much.
Lapidus, a criminal defence lawyer, draws from his courtroom experiences and presents a spellbinding portrait of life on the streets and the clubs of Stockholm. Anecdotes from popular culture spice his narrative, with celebrities such as Madonna and Kanye West making cameo appearances. He captures both underworld and high-class culture and language, moving seamlessly from Stureplan uppercrust lingo to ghetto fabulous. One minute you are listening to a pulsating jocular dialogue between naughty industry honchos at the Jet Set Carl-organised party and the next you hear Radovan aka the Serbian godfather strategising with his henchmen. The narrative is racy but at times goes overboard in its use of offensive language and racist slurs. The book also highlights serious issues, including the plight of immigrants and victims of human trafficking.
Translated from Swedish (Snabha Cash, published in 2006 and made into a film in 2010), Easy Money keeps you guessing with its surprising twists and turns. I was disappointed when the story ended abruptly, only to realise that Easy Money is the first instalment of the Stockholm Noir triology. I cannot wait to lay my hands on the second and third instalments. The novel stands out for its sheer page-turning quotient. A perfect way to spend an idle day — just snuggle up with a cuppa and take a vicarious plunge into Stockholm's underworld.
Easy Money By Jens Lapidus,Macmillan, 400 pages, £12.99