3 Hours moves effortlessly between two continents and completely different locations, the civilised Sweden and the less so Niger and Libya, but even though the perception of these countries is of contrasting morals, what really ties them together in this context is basically the harsh criminal barbaric trade in human beings.
It all starts in Stockholm. Nearing his professional journey DCI Ewert Grens receives an emergency call to a morgue whose inventory is showing one corpse too many. This impossible situation leads him to Värta Harbour, one of the largest port areas, and centre of international ferry traffic where he discovers a horrendous cargo: dead bodies of seventy-three refugees, suffocated in a container. The initial investigation directs Grens and his excellent team of main players Sven and Mariana to another mortuary where more unidentified bodies are found, and then to the complicated tunnels underneath the city. This was the route to transport the dead. The shocking discovery means that people responsible for the mass killing know the underground area well and might be within police’s reach.
Next stop is Niamey in Niger, a West African city unheard of by many people. Grens decides to search for a man he had hoped to never see again after the last escapade to Colombia. Yet now he needs to find Piet Hoffmann whose fingertip was lifted from a phone by one of the victims. The ex-convict, former-government informer and Gren’s nemesis-turned-ally is forced to infiltrate the brutal ring responsible for the container corpses; the organisation known for brutality and greed, and treating the refugees worse than animals, even worse than any cargo weight. Hoffmann really has no choice but to agree to a two-week period in order to unmask the top figures so he could return to his wife and two young sons. His family supposed to be safe in a quiet Stockholm suburb yet is also connected to the vicious operators and hence in grave danger. Two weeks become three hours, and the tension goes through every roof imaginable.
Hoffmann’s life consists mostly of being on the run ‘from a life sentence in a Swedish prison, from a death sentence from the Polish mafia, then another one from the White House, and then one more from a South American drug cartel.’ Lying became his second nature and a powerful tool to infiltrate dangerous criminal organisations, and in this particular case the corporation specialising in human smuggling of desperate African refugees to Sweden and Germany. Violence is a by-product, yet we still root for him.
Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström excel in creating intense compelling plots encompassing huge international matters and ordinary human existence, including major social issues without lecturing or judging, even if their stance is absolutely clear. Occasionally the duo leaves more questions than answers as how the moral compasses should work. And these compasses of course swing in various directions depending on personal circumstances. In 3 Hours, translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel, as the narration unfolds levels of connections between good and evil, the complexity of characters shines throughout and keeps you on the edge of the seat.
The novel was published by Quercus’ imprint Riverrun in August 2019 (hardback) and October 2020 (paperback).