Swedish thriller is grim, gripping

"Box 21" by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 393 pages, $26)

The recent popularity of Scandinavian crime authors — Stieg Larsson ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and Henning Mankel (the Wallander series) in particular — has opened up a new world of quality detective novels to American readers. "Box 21," a brooding, atmospheric piece of police fiction, marks the U.S. debut of Roslund-Hellstrom.

Set in Stockholm, the novel follows two stories: A savagely beaten Lithuanian prostitute takes a group of doctors hostages at the hospital where she is being treated — the same hospital where a junkie has just been found dead after a visit from a drug lord's hit man. Detective Ewert Grens and his colleagues on the police force juggle both cases and end up with more information than they'd hoped for. Story trumps characters most of the time in "Box 21," and the twisty plot carries readers along swiftly and unpredictably. The lives some of the characters lead are brutal, but the evocative details are not gratuitous.

A note: The translation is British, which is fine if you read a lot of English detective stories (or watch the TV versions), but may result in a little confusion for those less familiar with police lingo across the pond.