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Box 21: A Novel

Box 21: A Novel

3.3 66
by Anders Roslund

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The International Thriller that Stockholm City hailed as the Best Crime Novel of the Year has finally crossed the Atlantic!

Three years ago, Lydia and Alena were two hopeful girls from Lithuania. Now they are sex slaves, lured to Sweden with the promise of better jobs and then trapped in a Stockholm brothel, forced to repay their "debt."


The International Thriller that Stockholm City hailed as the Best Crime Novel of the Year has finally crossed the Atlantic!

Three years ago, Lydia and Alena were two hopeful girls from Lithuania. Now they are sex slaves, lured to Sweden with the promise of better jobs and then trapped in a Stockholm brothel, forced to repay their "debt." Suddenly they are given an unexpected chance at freedom, and with it the opportunity to take revenge on their enslavers and reclaim the lives and dignity they once had. What will happen now that the tables are turned and the victims fight back?

In this masterful thriller, the celebrated team of Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström delve into the seedy underbelly of Stockholm. There we meet Lydia and Alena as they embark on a desperate plan to expose their captor and demand justice; police officers Sundkvist and Grens, on the trail of both Lydia's enslavers and Jochum Lang, a notorious mob enforcer; and Hilding Oldéus, a junkie on what might be his last—and most destructive—bender. At the Söder Hospital, their destinies begin to converge in unexpected and explosive ways.

Box 21 is a Scandinavian thriller of the highest order: a mindblowing psychological drama written with powerful intensity. When it was published in Sweden, Solo called it "suspenseful, gripping, and intelligently written . . . Almost impossible to put down," while SVT exclaimed: "Forget crime literature; this is, simply put, great literature!"

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Box 21

A Novel

By Anders Roslund, Borge Hellstrom

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2009 Anders Roslund
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9002-8

She clung to her mother’s hand.
During the last year she had done this a lot, held on tight to her mother’s soft hand and felt it squeeze hers back.
She didn’t really want to go to the big city.
Her name was Lydia Grajauskas and she already had a sore tummy when they boarded the bus outside the ugly bus terminal in Klaipeda. The further away from home they went, the worse she felt.
Lydia had never been to Vilnius before – she had only imagined it and looked at pictures and listened to people’s stories – but now she didn’t want to go there at all, because it wasn’t her kind of place; she had nothing to do there.
It was more than a year since she had seen him.
She was about to turn nine and she had thought a hand grenade was a kind of cool present.
Dad hadn’t noticed that she was watching him. He had his back turned to her and Vladi, and he was excited about being with the other men; they all drank and shouted and hated the Russians. She was lying top to tail with Vladi in the sofa, a huge brown thing with a worn corduroy cover that smelt horrible; they used to lie there sometimes when school was closed and Dad was working. They listened.
There was something special about the men’s loud voices and guns and boxes of ammunition that fascinated them, that made them hide on the sofa to listen and watch more often than was perhaps good for them. Dad’s cheeks had been so red, which they weren’t normally, only sometimes at home, when he had been drinking straight from the bottle and sneaked up behind Mum and pressed himself against her bum. Of course, they had no idea that Lydia noticed what they were up to and she didn’t let on. He’d always drink just a bit more and Mum would have a taste too, her mouth to the bottle and then they’d go into the small bedroom, chase everyone out and close the door.
Lydia liked to see her dad’s flushed cheeks. At home or with the other men, polishing the weapons in front of them all. He seemed more alive then; he didn’t look as old as normal, after all he was twenty-nine.
She peeped cautiously through the window.
Her stomach hurt even more when the bus started and then hurtled along roads full of potholes, and every time one of the front wheels bumped over an especially rough bit, her seat shook and something sharp jabbed her insides, somewhere under her ribcage.
So this was what the big world really looked like. The unexplored world, the whole stretch of land between Klaipeda and Vilnius. She had never been allowed to go before; it was expensive, and the important thing was that Mum went, as she had done every second Sunday for almost a year, with food and the money she had somehow managed to get from somewhere. It was hard to tell how Dad really was, what he would say. He probably missed Mum more than her.
On the day with the hand grenade, he hadn’t even seen her.
Leaning forward out of the sofa, she had rooted around in the boxes of plastic explosives and grenades, shushing Vladi with her finger against her lips; he had to be quiet because the men didn’t want to be disturbed. She had known by then how all these things worked, the explosives, the grenades and the small handguns. She always watched when they practised, and if she had to, she could handle the weapons at least as well as some of the men.
She kept staring through the dirty window of the bus.
It was raining hard, so the windows should have been clean, but instead of washing away the dust, the raindrops whipped up a spray of brown mud that made it more and more difficult to see anything. The road was better now: no potholes, no jolting and no more jabs under her ribs.
She was actually holding the grenade when the police broke the door down and burst into the big room.
Dad and the other men shouted to each other but they were too slow off the mark, and just a few minutes later they’d been pushed up against the walls, handcuffed and beaten. She couldn’t remember how many police had come into the room, maybe ten or even twenty. All she remem­bered was that they kept screaming zatknis again and again and that they carried the same kind of gun that Dad sold, and that they won before they even started.
Their shouts had mixed with the sound of gunshots and breaking bottles.
All the noise had hurt her ears and then, suddenly, when Dad and his friends had been pinned to the floor, a strange silence fell.
Perhaps that silence had stayed in her memory more clearly than anything else; it had been a silence that had seemed to take over everything.
Mum’s hand. She grabbed it and pulled it closer, making it rest on the seat next to her, and she held on until the skin went white and she couldn’t squeeze it any harder. She had clung to her Mum’s hand just as hard when they sat outside the courtroom in Klaipeda, during the trial against her dad and his friends. She and Mum had sat there holding hands, and Mum cried for a long time when the court official in a grey suit came and told them that all of the accused had been sentenced to twenty-one years in prison.
It was a year since Lydia had seen him. He mightn’t recog­nise her now.
She prodded the cloth bag Mum had brought with her. It was bursting with food. Mum had told her about the porridge that they had to eat, almost always a nasty, mealy mess. Mum rattled on about vitamins, that you’d get ill if you didn’t get enough and how everyone in that place needed them and that’s why people who came to visit tried to bring good food.
The bus was driving quite fast now. The road was wider and there was more traffic than before, and the houses beyond the muddy window were larger as well and seemed to grow bigger the closer to Vilnius they got. The first houses she had seen along the bumpy road had looked old and poor. Now it was mostly blocks of flats, all grey walls and tin roofs, but sort of modern-looking. Then came some more expensive houses and then all the petrol stations, all in the same place. She smiled and pointed, she had never seen so many garages together before.
The rain had almost stopped, which was a good thing. She didn’t want her hair to get wet, not today.
The bus stop was near the Lukuskele prison, only a few hundred metres away. It was a great big place, taking up almost a whole city block, with a high wall going all the way round it. It had originally been a Russian church, but it had been converted and new buildings had been added. Now more than a thousand prisoners lived there.
Other mothers and children were already queuing outside a massive iron door set into the middle of the concrete wall. One family was let in at a time to face the uniformed and armed guards who were waiting in the room behind the door. Everyone had to answer questions. Show their iden­tity papers. Show what they had with them. One of the guards smiled at her, but she didn’t dare to smile back.
‘When we’re in there, if anyone coughs, leave the room.’
Mum turned to her while she said this and she looked stern, as she always did when she was serious. Lydia wanted to ask why, but held back, as it was clear that her mum didn’t want to say any more.
They were led out of the main building and on to a path running alongside a high fence with barbed wire on top. Behind it white dogs were barking and throwing themselves against the wire mesh. She saw two faces watching them from a barred window and they waved and called out to her.
‘Hey, sweetie! Up here, darling!’
She marched on, looking straight ahead. It wasn’t far to the next building.
Mum was carrying the bag in her arms and Lydia reached out for her hand. It wasn’t there. Another jab in her tummy, like on the bus when it bumped over the edges of potholes. They went up a staircase with harsh green walls; the colour almost hurt her eyes, so she kept looking at Mum’s back instead, putting her hand on it as they walked upstairs.
They stopped on the third-floor landing, followed the guard who pointed down a long, dark corridor that smelt stale and of bleach at the same time. Every door they passed had a bin with TBC written on it. She looked in one that wasn’t properly closed and saw tissues with blood clots.
This place was called the hospital wing, and the room they entered had eight beds in a row along one wall. The men’s heads had been shaved, and they all looked pale and tired. Some were lying down. Some were wrapped in a sheet and had been propped up in a chair and a few were stand­ing talking by a window. Dad was sitting on the bed at the far end.
Lydia stole a look at him and thought that he looked smaller than before.
He hadn’t spotted her. Not yet.
She had to wait for quite a long time.
Mum went to him first. And they spoke to each other, argued about something, not that she could hear what they said. Lydia kept watching him, and after a while she realised that she didn’t feel ashamed, not any more. She thought about the last year, about her schoolmates’ taunts that didn’t hurt any more, not when she stood here, so close to him. That sick feeling inside her and the pain in her tummy had gone away too.
Later, when she hugged him, he coughed, but she didn’t leave the room like she had promised her mum. She just held him tighter and wouldn’t let go.
She hated him; he should be coming home with them.   Excerpted from Box 21 by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström.
Copyright © 2008 by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström.
Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Excerpted from Box 21 by Anders Roslund, Borge Hellstrom. Copyright © 2009 Anders Roslund. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Anders Roslund is the founder and former head of Kulturnyheterna (Culture News) on Swedish Television. Börge Hellström is an ex-criminal who helps to rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts.

Anders Roslund is the founder and former head of Kulturnyheterna (Culture News) on Swedish Television and is the co-author of the novel Box 21 with Börge Hellström.
Börge Hellström is an ex-criminal who helps to rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts. He is co-author of the novel Box 21.

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Box 21 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
DTWright More than 1 year ago
Being a big fan of the Martin Beck novels, the Wallander series, and especially the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately, the characters are wooden, the exposition leaden, and the plot, not to put too fine a point on it, plods. Perhaps the translation is not very good, but the crudely drawn and hackneyed central character -- the detective Ewert -- seem to indicate that the problem is in the original text. Save your time and money.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Twenty-five years ago in Stockholm, criminal Jochum Lang left cop Anni Grens an invalid. Her spouse police detective Ewert Grens vowed to insure this punk never got freed. Now Jochum walks; but Grens, ignoring the pleading of his long time crony Bengt Nordwell to move on, stalks him looking to find something to return the SOB to prison. Grens and his partner Sundkvist arrive at a violent crime scene. Teenage Lithuanian prostitute Lydia Grajauskas was nearly killed by her Russian pimp. The Swedish detectives learn that Lydia and Alena Sljusareva were tricked into coming from Lithuania to Sweden three years ago under the ruse of legitimate employment, but sold as sex slaves instead; Jochum the enforcer is involved with the ring to Grens' glee. However while at Soder Hospital recovering from the beating, Lydia fearing deportation takes hostages. This is a super Swedish police procedural with several twists and spins as what related events that happened over the past quarter of a century are told in alternating chapters with what is occurring in the present. The fast-paced story line is character driven as the audience will feel the hatred Ewert does not try to hide as his reason for living is to destroy Lang like he did Anni. Fans who appreciate a refreshing different type of police procedural will want to read BOX 21 as Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom keeps the readers off kilter, past and present. Harriet Klausner
bridget3420 More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best thrillers I have read in a really long time. I liked everything about it, the writing style, the characters, everything was perfect. This would be the perfect gift for the reader in your life.
goldengirlAB More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed this riveting and at times, chilling, look at the international sex trade. The story is real life and suspenseful with a clever twist at the end. The shocking under story is how pervasive this type of crime is in a country with an educated, "civilized" society.
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Excellent and hard to put down.love it
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Tigerpaw70 More than 1 year ago
Also published under the title "The Vault" in the UK Book 2 in the Ewert Grens series The novel holds two main stories that are dark, extraordinarily sad and definitely not for the faint at heart. Both threads involve one of Stockholm's best detectives Ewert Grens. The first plot opens, with the release from prison of a notorious criminal; Jochum Lang. Detective Grens who has personal and professional reasons, feels Lang is a threat to the public, a hard core criminal and he makes it his mission to put him back behind bars. Grens strong feelings are based on an incident that happened twenty five years earlier. His colleague and girlfriend at the time was beaten to within an inch of her life and has been institutionalized ever since, a case that haunts him to this day. When Grens discovers that criminal bosses are hiring Lang as a strong arm he seizes the chance to send him back to prison. The second plot is fast paced and full of credible action with a sad tone, another case Detective Grens is working in parallel that is demanding much of his time and skill. Lydia Grajauskas and Alena Sljusareva are two Lithuanian girls who have been tricked into leaving their country only to become sex slaves and property of the man they call Dimitri-B astard-Pimp. We first learned about the girls when they are into a three year old nightmare servicing 12 clients a day, their moral at the extreme low and often beaten into submission. One day Lydia was so badly beaten that the neighbours called the police and was transported to the hospital. Her terrifying ordeal is revealed and at the same time she seizes the opportunity to fulfill a dream, take matters into her own hands and escape the hands of her captor. The writing is crisp and steadfast with short chapters that shift back and forth between several colourfully portrayed characters: the criminals, the victims and the cops. I found it rather hard to get into this tale at first but once I became familiar with the writer's style and phrasing, it all fell into place, at this point the story gelled and I was hooked. I like this novel; it is a complex and intense psychological thriller that delivers a brutally intimate view into the drug and sex slave trade.
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