Third Voice by Cilla and Rolf Börjlind

3 Mins read

Translated by Hilary Parnfors — Spring Tide was one of our favourite debuts of 2014, and now the sequel has arrived. For the second book in their series, husband-and-wife writing duo Cilla and Rolf Börjlind were always going to face the challenge of how to incorporate the revelations in Spring Tide (published as Springfloden in Sweden).

For the first 100 pages of Third Voice (first published as Den Tredje Rösten), I found myself distracted by trying to recall details from the first instalment as the crime-writing couple did their best to avoid any clumsy exposition. Overall, they get the balance about right. But if you haven’t read Spring Tide, you’ll probably struggle with a sequel that follows on directly from book one. Of course, there’s an obvious solution: start at the beginning.

For the initiated, reading Third Voice is rather like settling down to watch a new box set of a favourite TV drama: the same cast of characters, their personal struggles and a slowly developing plot that takes in various locations. The last novel was partly set in South America and a Swedish archipelago, while the action in Third Voice takes place in Stockholm and Marseille. You suspect the Börjlinds sometimes fancy a break from the gloomy Swedish weather, especially as they have to consider locations for their TV series – Spring Tide is being adapted into a 10-part drama.

There are still loose ends to tie up from the first book, and the running themes in Third Voice are revenge and exploitation. Tom Stilton, an ex-detective who ended up homeless, is back on his feet and out to get the corrupt cop who drummed him out of the force. Meanwhile, trainee cop Olivia Rönning is on a voyage of self-discovery after the events of the first book, and she’s uncertain about joining the force. Olivia’s also not forgiven the woman – a prostitute with connections – who arranged for her cat to be killed to deter her solo investigation.

However, it’s a secondary character from Spring Tide who becomes the focus for this case. Abbas el Fassi works as a croupier though he has a unique (and brutally efficient) skillset, which he honed while employed in a circus. When he learns about the grisly fate of the knife thrower’s assistant who was the love of his life, he takes Tom to Marseille on a mission to avenge her.

Meanwhile, Olivia is drawn into investigating the apparent suicide of a neighbour, who had complained about the poor care received by his elderly father. Once again the Börjlinds – like Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson before them – explore the cracks in Swedish society within the constructs of a crime novel. Olivia teams up with a journalist in an attempt to expose the financial predators she blames for allowing systemic neglect in several care homes for the elderly.

When she inveigles herself into the isolated coastal retreat of CEO Jean Borell, Olivia places herself in grave danger. The Börjlinds have great fun with this egocentric character, who has a glass eye and is an obsessive collector of modern art. One of the macabre exhibits in his bunker-like home is the foetal remains of a pair of conjoined twins in an aquarium.

Of course, with its circus acts and Bond-style villain Third Voice is not a novel for crime readers who require total realism. There’s also a hefty coincidence that connects the French investigation with events in Stockholm, though the Börjlinds are generally adept when it comes to their plotting.

Third Voice can be grim and hard-hitting in its depiction of vice across Europe, but there’s also a lightness of touch in the interaction between its ensemble cast as well as flashes of humour. Once you’re drawn into the suspenseful prose and drip-feed of revelations, you’ll almost certainly find yourself addicted to a Swedish series that might well be the next big Scandi-crime TV drama.

Read our review of Spring Tide here.

Hesperus Nova

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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