First published in Sweden back in July of 2006 under the title ‘Snabba Cash: Hatet Drivet Jakten’ (‘Easy Money: Hatred, Driven, Hunted’), Swedish criminal defence lawyer Jens Lapidus’ debut novel was later translated and published into English in April of 2012 under the new title ‘Easy Money’.  The novel formed the first part of a planned trilogy.

DLS Synopsis:
Jorge Salinas Barrio was already getting pretty sick of being inside.  Having been locked up for drug dealing, the Chilean was working hard in planning his elaborate escape.  It wasn’t going to be an easy task.  But not impossible.  And when the day finally arrives, and he’s out of Österåker and running off into the woodland around the close-security prison, Jorge knows that he still has a long way to go before he’s finally free.  He needs to completely change his appearance.  Change his mannerisms.  And start afresh with a new life.  But first and foremost, he needs money.

Meanwhile Johan Westlund (aka JW) is carrying on with his double-life; by day studying hard whilst barely getting by week-in-week-out on his measly student income combined with what he makes from his ‘off-the-books’ taxi work, whilst at night he’s partying with his obscenely wealthy friends under the pretence that he’s one-of-them.  But JW is carrying around the ghost of his sister Camilla who went missing a little while back.  He needs to know what happened to her.  Why she suddenly disappeared, seemingly without a trace.  Something just doesn’t add up.

Elsewhere in Stockholm, the Serbian Mrado Slovovic is pushing his muscular weight around, expanding the coat-check racketeering business under the direct guidance of the Yugoslavian Mafia leader Radovan Kranjic.  Along with dabbling with some drug trafficking and other highly organised criminal behaviour, the ex-bouncer turned gangster-thug works hard as a body builder along with trying to claw back whatever relationship he can persevere with his young daughter Lovisa.

However, Jorge quickly finds that life on the run is far from an easy one.  He’s running out of options.  Running out of ideas.  And in desperation, falls back on a last desperate measure he really didn’t want to adopt.  He calls up Radovan Kranjic and offers an ultimatum.  But the Swedish gangster boss is far from someone you want to blackmail. 

At the same time, JW is finding out that there’s a hell of a lot of money in dealing in cocaine.  A temptation that could turn his whole life around.  A temptation that’s just that little too much for him to hold back from.

On the other hand, Mrado is feeling mistreated and underappreciated.  His life seems to be going nowhere fast.  He needs more respect from his boss.  And he needs to sort out his future with his daughter.  Most of all, he needs to get away from killing.  He needs a more secure life.  But it’s a hard one to broach with a boss like Radovan.

The three lives are soon to converge.  What brought them to this point will ultimately define where they will be and who’s side they will be on.  After all, there are countless intricate layers to the Stockholm criminal underworld, and many shadowy characters whose endless corruption cloud the vision of those around them.  But the real question is, how far will you go for the money?...

DLS Review:
Lapidus’ ‘Easy Money’ is a character rich (and utterly dependent) story, cutting open the dark and inherently corrupt criminal underworld of Sweden, to expose the powerful organisations involved, the players, and the difficult temptations that fuel much of the criminal antics.

There’s certainly a lot of research and knowledge gone in to the fabrication and elaborate fleshing-out of the novel.  Indeed, on numerous occasions, certain examples of criminal behaviour can become quite an interesting eye-opener.  And Lapidus attempts to expose as much as he can – from bullish coat-check racketeering, to fierce drug-pushing, to prostitution, to complex money laundering schemes, to cigarette and alcohol importing, and on to gun violence and murder. 

The novel is literally crammed full of such criminal antics, brought into the forefront of the multiple-angled (and quite disorientatingly complex) plot.  Along with our three key principal characters, none of which are particularly easy to identify with due to their criminal roles, there are numerous secondary characters who each play out their own unique roles in the elaborate weaving and merging of the plotlines.  And it’s these sub-characters in particular that bring about a much stronger and more rewarding base for the novel as a whole.

For the mainstay of the novel Lapidus continuously attempts to really immerse the reader in this violent and savage underbelly of modern society.  Along with this, there are enough nods towards designer brand names, high class retailers and expensive cars to let you know that the author is more than aware of the pricier things in life.  Greed and utter excess play forceful roles in the tale.  And always alongside this is a throbbing brutal hierarchy of gangsters that strikes its aggressive way through the lives of everyone around them in order for the various organisations’ wealth to reap the monetary rewards.

Surprisingly the police play a weak and barely existent part in the storyline, only really making a marked appearance by way of a catalyst for the inner rival wars to fire up from.  Nevertheless, amongst all the greed, violence, criminal behaviour and extortion, brief glimpses of human goodness and morally-rewarding hope can be seen.  And how stark such actions become, buried as they are within the claustrophobic encasement of such guttural brutality.

However, where the novel ultimately falls down most predominantly is in the lack of any particularly hard-hitting punches.  Furthermore, Lapidus tries to make aspects of the novel seem more sleazy and corrupt than in fact they come out as.  Okay, so it’s all a bit ‘mafia gangster’ with corruption and macho power-play being thrown around like there’s no tomorrow.  But never does the novel really hit the reader in the face like an intentionally swung sledgehammer.  It’s all just a lot of meandering around the subject, throwing down wave after wave of criminal frolics without really getting down and dirty with some nerve-jangling brutality.  And that’s what a novel of this fashion really needs.

Outside of the ‘never-quite-getting-there’ issue, the novel also struggles to keep itself on track, in-gear and pushing forwards with enough momentum to bring the reader along at the same speed.  Instead, the storyline often slumps down into pits of grinding pace, where only certain aspects within the parallel running storylines manage to keep any overall entertainment going.

But it still has its moments and its undeniable strengths.  None more so than the intriguingly complex nature of the storyline and the strength of the overall research into the book.  Nevertheless, all through ‘Easy Money’ it still feels like the author had something to prove in writing the novel.  He wanted to cram in as much knowledge of the criminal world as he could.  He wanted the world to know how much he knows about designer gear, high-class life as well as life in the gutter.  However, quite ironically he (or his translator Astri von Arbin Ahlander) kept misspelling the word ‘whisky’ when referring to Scottish whiskies (i.e. with the additional ‘e’), which in itself is no particularly severe crime, but comes across as a bit of a foolish faux pas when the author keeps name-checking various single malt whiskies in another vein attempt to show his know-how.

The novel runs for a total of 468 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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