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EASY MONEY (AUDIO)
by Jens Lapidus and Astri von Arbin Ahlander, trans. read by Bruce Turk
Audible Audio, April 2013
Unabridged pages
$35.00
ISBN: B007R0704K


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jens Lapidus' first novel, EASY MONEY, is an interesting twist on the typical crime thriller: This long debut (almost 500 pages in print), set in Stockholm, is told from the point of view of three criminals.

JW is a part-time college student from a poor family. He wants to hang out with rich young men and not be spotted in his own neighborhood. He makes a meager living by driving a gypsy cab; he is stuck living with his parents. He is young and a bit naïve as well as somewhat desperate to move up the social ladder. Therefore, when his boss, Abdul, suggests that JW switch from driving a cab to selling cocaine, this appealing young man calculates the possible profits and starts dealing, first to his friends and then on a larger scale.

The second narrator is Mrado, a Serbian-born member of a crime family from the former Yugoslavia. He is second in command to Rado, a boss he both fears and despises for raking off more than his fair share of the profits. Mrado's assignment is squeezing club owners for a share of their business. The "Yugos," as they are referred to in the novel, rake in cash from the compulsory - and apparently expensive - coat check at each club. While Mrado brutally enforces his gang's right to take money for "protection," he dreams of starting another life with his small daughter, whom he gets to see only every other week.

The third narrator is Jorge, a gangster of Chilean descent, who has taken the fall for a crime and gone to prison for Mrado. After Jorge escapes somewhat dramatically from confinement, he wants payback in the form of a handsome reward and a fake passport that will get him out of Sweden.

Where, one might be wondering, are the police in this crime novel? They are at the edge of the page. Occasionally, Lapidus inserts some case files that relate to one of the criminals or adds a police memo about forthcoming plans to try to arrest at least fifty of the 150 biggest criminals on their list. Unlike American police, for instance, the Swedish organized crime unit seems resigned to containing the number of drug dealers, pimps, and organized crime shakedowns. They express no hope of eradicating the problem or of locking up all the players. Perhaps they are more realistic than their American counterparts: They have no fantasy that a war on drugs will eradicate any of Stockholm's problems.

Inevitably, the worlds of the three narrators collide, as their schemes to make money or get revenge intersect in Stockholm's relatively small criminal milieu. The novel is related in strong, first-person voices, and Lapidus has a good sense of character development. Ironically, though this thriller is set in Sweden, one feels that these characters would be totally at home in many American cities, such as New York or Miami, with the slight difference that the crime bosses would be skimming money from clubs through overpriced garbage pickup. It could be that organized crime has become an universal business, with minor differences in the ethnicity of mob members. They might be Russians or Ukranians in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn; here, they are primarily Serbs. Jorge would be comfortable in most American cities, and JW is not much different from any hard-working college student. JW's trust-fund buddies seem out of a show set in Los Angeles.

The fault is not that of Lapidus, who is a talented writer with a clever way of telling what could be a trite story without his well-sculpted characters and relentless action, which drives the story forward despite its length. In the post-Stieg Larsson era, Scandinavian writers feel freer to bulk up novels as if they were literary body builders: More violence, more criminals, more pages seem to be the new mantra in a muscular quest for size.

Bruce Turk, the reader, jumps into this large volume with great aplomb. He has a large and unwieldy cast to deal with. Every character has a coterie of friends, family, or colleagues. Turk covers them all skillfully, from the pseudo-preppy JW to the Serbian thugs with their thick foreign accents, to Jorge's Latino cadences. This is a tough thriller for one narrator to wrap his tongue around, but somehow Turk conveys the diverse cultural layers of Stockholm with verve. He does a particularly good job with his reading of the court documents that represent the police perspective. In these sections, his tone is brisk and neutral—quite perfect. He has the right driving tempo to get listeners through this long and complicated tale. He conveys the feel of parties, clubs, and even prisons. It's a showy performance, for sure.

Lapidus is a clever new writer on the booming Scandinavian crime scene. Touted as one of Sweden's top defense lawyers, Lapidus seems quite at home with the world he depicts. Fans of thrillers will appreciate his novel approach to a well-populated genre.

§ Karla Jay is a legally blind audio book addict, who lives in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Pace University.

Reviewed by Karla Jay, July 2013

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