The Swede truth

The Swede truth

As a reviewer, one comes across absolutely delightful novels now and then, and Easy Money is definitely one. If you enjoy seedy stuff, that is. Set in the underworld of a European capital, the on-the-surface, squeaky-clean Stockholm — a city of well-dressed brats hanging out at trendy bistros — Easy Money reveals, pretty convincingly, what goes on while normal people sleep. This, then, is Swedish noir at its best.

Easy Money has several good things going for it. Its author, Jens Lapidus, is a lawyer who specialises in underworld affairs; so he manages to create a sense of authenticity through the way people talk the walk. The pages are peppered with legal documents, ranging from police reports to court proceedings, creating a clever echo effect that enables the reader to “hear,” after a crime has taken place on the pages, how the various crooks involved distort events and lie through their teeth when they are standing before a judge. Lapidus very effectively shows how hard it is to determine the truth about anything.

Authenticity also stems from the fact that Lapidus is part of the Stockholm in-crowd. He’s been a glamorous TV co-host (for the Swedish equivalent of reality TV shows like Crime Patrol: Dastak or America’s Most Wanted) and a couple of years back, a fashion magazine even crowned Lapidus “the best dressed Swedish male”. So this is one of those cases where it becomes difficult to draw the line between the author and his fiction — although none of the characters is the author’s alter-ego, because Easy Money is not that much of an autobiographical novel.

At the centre of the plot, which involves various mafia groups hell-bent on taking over the lowest gutter levels of the once-upon-a-time welfare state of Sweden by pumping junk into its ghettoes and jails, is JW or Johan Westlund.

A regular middle-class boy from rural town Robertsfors near the Arctic Circle, JW wants to become a big shot in the Stockholm jet set — but has no money. He studies at the Stockholm School of Economics by day and by night, he drives a taxi to afford hip clothes; he also deals a bit in cocaine. Slowly, the cocaine becomes a major preoccupation for JW as he realises that the only way to rule over the Stockholm nightlife, and get the classiest chicks, is to become the cocaine king.

Inter-cut with JW’s jog in the fast lane, we get vignettes from the lives of a Yugoslav Mafioso, Mrado, and a Latino drug pusher, Jorge, and these three ultimately collide, as can be expected, in a suitably violent ending. Therefore, if there’s a problem with this highly entertaining romp on the wilder sides of Stockholm, it’s this: the almost formulaic plot where we keep shuttling between the three men, without really getting deep into their dark souls. While the pace remains quick, it begins to feel like we’re in a never-ending series of set-pieces that don’t really take us anywhere more interesting or terrifying than where we were at the outset.

The young Swedish yuppie brat goes on doing his yuppie-brat stuff, occasionally upgrading his wardrobe. The mafia torpedo goes on beating up people. And the drug pusher keeps pushing his drugs.

Each of the three has, like good fictional characters ought to, a soft spot, a vulnerable side. Unfortunately, they all have the same vulnerability, and no prize for guessing: each of them roots for a woman. We learn that JW is not an all-superficial, slick-with-hair-gel night-clubber — his sister once disappeared. Nobody knows where, how, or why, except that she was last seen in Stockholm a few years before JW, the younger brother, moved into town. Maybe she went to India and became a Bollywood star, JW fantasises. JW, now and then, even tries to find out, but in a half-hearted manner, and his private investigation into her disappearance turns out to be a story both sad and bad.

When Mrado is not pulping people, the Yugoslav enforcer is embroiled in a custody case with his ex-wife: he loves his daughter; he tries to be a goody-goody dad on visiting days, and take the girl out for fun stuff.

Meanwhile Jorge, the lowly pusher, pursues his own agenda, makes a daring jailbreak and seeks revenge on those who let him down, while trying to keep up appearances before his beautiful, innocent sister. For she’s the good girl, opposed to all crime, refusing to take shortcuts in life, doggedly pursuing her studies at the university.

The plot constantly hovers somewhere between soap opera and a Stockholm version of The Sopranos. All the same, those who get hooked on to Jens Lapidus will be happy to know that Easy Money is part of a Stockholm noir trilogy — the first in the set. Enjoy this seedy, seductive, sodomite version of Sweden if you please, then.

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