Three Seconds – Book Review

Piet Hoffmann had heard the order for the third time.

He had stood still when the gun was cocked.

He had stood still when the finger pressed on the trigger.

It was a strange feeling, knowing that a bullet was on its way, that he had three seconds left. – from Three Seconds –

Piet Hoffman is a paid infiltrator and former criminal who is working for the Swedish police; a man who is willing to put his life on the line in order to eventually earn his freedom and a chance at a life with his wife and two young sons. He has managed to infiltrate the top leadership of the Polish mafia who are running drugs by using human mules; and now he needs to go one step further – after a botched drug deal where a man is murdered he agrees to enter the Swedish prison system and shut down the huge drug ring that represents billions of dollars to the mafia.  Hoffmann’s only friend within the justice system  is his handler. He trusts no one else. While Hoffman enters the prison, hoping to keep his real identity secret, a brilliant detective by the name of Ewert Grens begins to get a little too close to the illicit work within the police department. Grens, a damaged but persistent man, unwittingly puts into motion events which threaten Hoffmann’s life. Hoffmann has only one chance at escape…and it gives him only three seconds to react.

Three Seconds is a crime novel which has earned its authors great praise in their home country of Sweden. Fast paced, convoluted, and with twists that are difficult to predict, this is a novel which readers of suspense-thrillers will find interesting. The detail in the book is well researched, but for those without knowledge of the Swedish prison and justice system, some of that detail serves to confuse at the onset. Despite being in the dark through the early chapters, I persevered and my patience was ultimately rewarded.

The best part of this novel is the last 150 pages when the story begins to come together and the plot begins to reveal twists and turns which are unexpected.

Thematically the novel deals with moral struggle, the idea of good vs. evil, and police corruption. Characters are not clearly good or bad. Bad acts at times appear justified; while decisions made by the primary characters are often in a gray area between just and unjust.

My primary difficulty with the novel was its style of jumping from one character’s point of view to another character’s point of view.  Often thoughts or conversations from previous events (in italics) are inserted into the middle of the action which at first confused me. After a while, I got used to this head-hopping approach, but I think it may be off-putting for readers who are used to reading in a more linear fashion.

Ultimately, however, I enjoyed the surprises which this novel had to offer. Readers who love fast-paced crime novels will undoubtedly want to read Three Seconds.

FTC Disclosure: This novel was sent to me by the publisher as part of the Barnes and Noble First Look Book Club.

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  1. I love crime novels! I will have to check this one out. I tend to like novels that switch between characters so you can see each persons point of view…but it definitely helps avoid confusion to know in advance that it is going to happen!

  2. I think – maybe I already mentioned this – that the translation is problematic too. In fact, on the First Look site, a number of people point out some problems with dates that they think is because the translator might have read them day/month rather than month/day. Still, you’re right about the end of it – much better than the beginning!

    • Wendy on December 20, 2010 at 07:40

    Lisa: I don’t mind POV switches, but this book is a little abrupt with that and it made it hard to follow…even still, I ended up liking it, so I think for someone like you who loves crime novels, it is worth a read.

    Rhapsody(Jill): I didn’t notice the time mistakes (now I want to go back and find them!) but I wondered if the translation was a bit rough at times. It is always hard to tell with translated books how much is author style and how much is translation. I thought the end made up for a lot of the issues I had early on 🙂

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