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Pen 33


Pen 33

The author team of Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström is not new to the American literary scene, having come to shore in one of the early modern waves of Nordic noir writers that followed the popularity of Stieg Larsson. Their novels featuring Stockholm’s Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens have been published somewhat out of order in the United States, thus explaining why the first installment, PEN 33, is only now seeing publication here. Its release (which would have been impossible without the translation skills of Elizabeth Clark Wessel) is bittersweet, due to Hellström’s death in early 2017. Of all the books in the series, this is arguably the most important and controversial one.

PEN 33 begins with a Publisher’s Note advising that it portrays sexual violence involving minors. While these reprehensible acts take place off the page and are described in the aftermath (in the crime scenes and the medical examiner’s office), they are no less eye-watering for it. This makes for rough reading --- at least for the majority of the book’s first half --- and a conundrum, given that at times one cannot help but want to stop reading yet must continue, hoping for a satisfactory resolution.

"These are books, beginning with PEN 33, that everyone should read and consider, but note well: they are not for the faint-hearted."

The monster responsible for these unthinkable crimes is Bernt Lund, an unrepentant and unapologetic child rapist and serial killer. His actions constitute an evil force of nature visited upon the city of Stockholm until his capture and trial. But when he escapes from police custody during a transport, his subsequent actions cause the father of one of his victims to embark upon a course of revenge to effectuate the type of justice that the state appears powerless to enforce. This results in a series of events that turns the entire country on its ear.

The question is asked, as it has been before and will be again: Of what use is the state when it is powerless to protect its own citizens? And to what extent can and should the innocent who act to protect themselves or others be prosecuted? The narrative and the story are straightforward, but the answers and the questions raised are anything but easy, particularly at the book’s conclusion. Don’t be surprised if you hear yourself screaming.

Roslund is an award-winning journalist specializing in criminal and social issues, and his expertise is thoroughly exhibited here. Hellström was an ex-convict who brought his experiences as a criminal and prisoner to this series. Their brutal collaboration provides stark and unforgettable imagery, and raises questions that aren’t easily answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Hopefully we will see more from Roslund in the future, even as we read and re-read his co-authored work with Hellström. These are books, beginning with PEN 33, that everyone should read and consider, but note well: they are not for the faint-hearted.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 8, 2017

Pen 33
by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

  • Publication Date: November 6, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus
  • ISBN-10: 1681440571
  • ISBN-13: 9781681440576