Written by Jens Lapidus – Easy Money is the translation of Jens Lapidus’ hit Swedish crime novel Snabba Cash. The first part of his Stockholm Noir trilogy, Snabba Cash appeared as a film in Sweden in 2010 which will be appearing in US cinemas this summer. An American film adaptation is also in the works starring Zac Efron. All this cinematic attention means Lapidus’ star is clearly on the rise, and it is fitting that his first novel has just received an English translation. Easy Money may not be quite as punchy a title as Snabba Cash, but there’s plenty of punch to be had once you open the book.
Easy Money revolves around a trio of protagonists. JW is a working-class student who longs to be part of Stockholm’s conspicuously affluent jet set, but is haunted by the disappearance of his sister several years earlier. In order to finance lavish social aspirations, JW turns to selling cocaine. Mrado is a Serbian mobster negotiating three tricky situations: organising the underworld to maximise the Serbian mob’s share of illicit markets; securing his own position within the Serbian organization; and gaining custody of his eight-year-old daughter. The final protagonist is Jorge, a Latino cocaine dealer who breaks out of prison. Jorge tries to get back into the game to take care of his pregnant sister and take revenge on the Serbians who put him in prison.
All of these conflicting protagonists are sympathetic – we relate with each of their motivations and objectives. As the book proceeds it becomes clear that they can’t all have their way. In fine noir form, Lapidus brings us to an inexorable and unfortunate climax. We follow JW, Mrado and Jorge through a shifting pattern of tentative alliances and betrayals. The double- and triple-dealing all comes to a head when a mammoth drug deal goes wrong. All three characters find out that the money they seek is not as attainable as they hoped.
Scandinavian crime fiction is often called noir, despite the fact that noir influences are not always apparent. Lapidus’ telegraphic prose calls James Ellroy to mind, and not only because of Ellroy’s blurb on the cover. Lapidus, a practicing defense attorney in Stockholm, has an intimate knowledge of both crime and the criminal justice system in Sweden. Because of this, he is able to write a hardboiled Swedish crime novel that differs dramatically from most Swedish crime fiction.
This is not to say the book is perfect. At nearly 500 pages, Easy Money involves quite a bit of switching between perspectives. The author gives us three complex protagonists, but this also means describing some events several times. Furthermore, the translation relies heavily on American slang. This is distracting; I wondered if Swedish hoods were likely to really use some of the translated dialogue. I could not imagine a more compelling presentation of Swedish legal particularities than Lapidus has given us. It is unfortunate that the use of Americanisms undercuts Lapidus’ unique novel.
But this is the first English translation of Lapidus’ first novel. It is a worthy debut, and one hopes the author and future translators can work out the kinks in other installments of the Stockholm Noir trilogy. Easy Money moves Swedish crime fiction in a new – and exciting – direction. It offers us gritty scenes, shady characters, tangled conspiracies and brutal depravity. It combines these with intricate details of the Swedish underworld and legal system.
While a satisfying read, Easy Money is also the first part of a trilogy. There are clearly elements of the plot that are not resolved in the first book. Easy Money tells an intriguing story and left me looking forward to subsequent English editions of the Stockholm Noir trilogy. As Jens Lapidus introduces himself to English-speaking readers, I’m hard-pressed to think of a better strategy.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars