• Sweden's news in English
 
Jens Lapidus: Sweden's newest star crime writer

Jens Lapidus: Sweden's newest star crime writer

Published: 13 Apr 2012 11:39 GMT+02:00

Jens Lapidus sits down for lunch after having spent the morning in a Stockholm court helping a client beat charges of trading in stolen goods.

In the afternoon, he's scheduled to visit another client locked up at Österåker prison, a medium-security facility about 30 kilometres north of Stockholm.

"This is what I do," he tells The Local.

"Part of this job is a duty. You do it because you took it upon yourself to do it. It becomes your duty to defend."

While passionate about his work as one of Sweden's most prominent criminal defence attorneys, Lapidus finds his time increasingly occupied by duties of a different kind: those that come with being a best-selling author who is helping to redefine Scandinavian crime fiction.

However, as Lapidus tells it, the dual role of lawyer and author go hand in hand.

"The inspiration for all my books comes from the world that I see in my job as a lawyer," he explains.

The intertwining of Lapidus's literary and lawyerly duties is exemplified by the fact that his afternoon date with an inmate is set to take place at Österåker, the same prison fled by one of the main characters in "Snabba Cash", the 2006 debut novel which unexpectedly turned the then-aspiring lawyer into the freshest (and in the eyes of many, the best looking) face in contemporary Swedish literature.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more of Jens Lapidus

The book, which was published in English in the UK last month as "Easy Money" and came out in the US last week, ended up being the first in a trilogy that has been labelled "Stockholm noir".

With his gritty, fast-paced tale about the Stockholm underworld told from the perspective of the gangsters and drug lords, Lapidus, 37, helped redefine a genre made popular in Sweden and internationally by the likes of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson.

"I'm very different from traditional Scandinavian crime writing," he explains, citing Mankell, Håkan Nesser, and Camilla Läckberg as the authors that helped define the genre with their "murder, investigation, solution" formula.

"I don't have an investigator. I write about criminals... I want to do everything the other way around."

Indeed, the original inspiration that prompted Lapidus to write what evolved into "Snabba Cash" came from the drama he observed in an actual Stockholm courtroom early in his career.

"There were three young men charged with assault and robbery," he recalls.

At the conclusion of the trial, the presiding judge asked the young men where they saw themselves in five years, in an effort to determine how willing they might be to change their ways:

"They got very angry, they stood up and started shouting, 'You don't understand anything, you don't understand what we come from, you don't understand anything about our lives, you don't understand that this – what we do – is normal to us. It is our life to do this; this is the way we live.'"

At home later that night, Lapidus turned on his computer and started to write.

"I figured that if, in our country, in Sweden, in Stockholm, there are people for whom it's 'normal' to commit crimes, then it also must be fascinating and interesting to go into the heads of these people and try to describe crime from their perspective, crime as something normal," he explains.

While the story didn't end up making it into "Snabba Cash", it became the first in a series of what Lapidus refers to as "therapeutic" writings inspired by his work as a criminal lawyer which formed the basis for his first book.

"I didn't have any plans to write a novel. I was never this person that always had a dream about writing a book," he explains.

"It came to me more like a need than something I was planning to do."

After prompting from his wife, Lapidus sent a rough manuscript to some publishers and before long found himself the author of a genre-defining novel detailing the struggles of the young Swede JW, the escaped convict Jorge, and the Yugoslav mobster Mrado as they navigate a violent mix of drugs, blackmail, and deceit in their quest for "easy money".

"It's an ironic title, really. They all want to belong, to climb somewhere and they think the key to the good life is 'snabba cash'. But maybe the good life is something completely different," he says.

While Lapidus believes there is something universal in the journeys made by the characters in "Snabba Cash", he adds that there is another "very Swedish" layer that he's uncertain that readers in the United States will appreciate when it comes to JW's efforts to improve his lot in life.

"He's a social climber," says Lapidus.

"Now, when we talk to the Americans about the remake they say 'what's so special about that? That's the American Dream, it's normal.' But in Sweden there is something fishy about someone who wants to change class, to move into the upper class."

Lapidus is blunt in labelling Sweden a "class-based society" and Stockholm as a "segregated city", something he says Swedes are hesitant to accept.

"It's a sensitive issue in Sweden... trying to belong where you don't really belong," he explains.

"We may not want to admit it, but this is a class-based society."

While Gamla Stan and the central parts of Stockholm are "very white", travelling a few stations south on the metro to a suburb like Skärholmen yields a picture of the city that is "totally different".

"We've created a false image of ourselves," he said.

Many of the criminals in Lapidus's novels also have immigrant backgrounds, something he argues ensures the books "feel real".

"If you look at prison gangs or organized criminal gangs in Sweden, they are constituted a lot by immigrants," he says.

"That's not to say that I am describing all immigrants like that – I am describing individuals."

And rather than being criticized for his portrayal of immigrants, Lapidus says the reaction has been quite the opposite among residents of immigrant-dominated Stockholm suburbs.

"If you go to Tensta or Rinkeby, and you ask the young guys out there in their 20s if they've ever read a book, they will say, 'Yeah, two books. One is a book by Jens Lapidus and the other is Zlatan.'," he explains, referencing the autobiography of Swedish football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

"Those are the books these guys read and they love them; it's their story."

While class divisions and underworld violence may seem at odds with many people's view of Sweden as a harmonious, safe country bound by social democratic ideals, Lapidus believes that picture of Sweden is outdated.

"That image was set in the 60s and early 70s... everyone was a part of this grand welfare family," he explains.

"Before, we didn't have gangs, we didn't have the the Hells Angels, the Russians, the prison gangs, but now we do and they've been here 15, maybe 20 years."

As Lapidus sees it, crime in Sweden has become worse in the last two decades as organized criminal "syndicates" have made crime more "systematic".

"That being said, however, Sweden is still a comparatively safe place to live," he says, but adds that elements of the criminal underworld touch people's lives more than they might think.

"If you go to any pub in Stockholm with a wardrobe or a coat check, you will be involved," he says.

While Lapidus considers his "Stockholm noir" trilogy distinct from Stieg Larsson's wildly popular "Millennium" trilogy, he's quick to admit that the seemingly boundless success of the late Swedish author's books has "opened a few doors" .

"But it's sort of a blessing and curse. Of course, I'm now riding this wave of interest in Scandinavian crime literature," he says.

"But on the other hand I'm very different from Stieg Larsson."

Looking ahead, Lapidus hopes he can continue to strike a balance between being a defence attorney and a fiction writer – not to mention a husband and father.

"Financially, I'd be much better off if I quit my job as a lawyer because then I could maybe write a book a year," he says.

"But I'm not going to change my life just because my books are selling really well. I like my job...I also would go crazy if I would sit and write all day. I like to have structure and I get a lot of inspiration from working as a lawyer."

Other projects he's considering include writing a Swedish courtroom drama for television along the lines of "Law & Order".

"I've been seriously contemplating writing something along the lines of a John Grisham novel or something for TV," he says.

"But I haven't yet because all of my colleagues would think I'm writing about them."

So far, Lapidus remains modest in the wake of his success.

"I'm a pretty boring guy," he says sheepishly, adding however, that he wouldn't rule out living in the United States for a time if he books achieve success there on par with how they did in Sweden.

But at the end of the day, his home – and his heart—are firmly rooted in Stockholm, the city which, is in many ways, is as important as any character in the books that helped redefine perceptions of his hometown and what it means to be a Swedish crime writer.

David Landes

twitter.com/davelandes

Related links:

Your comments about this article

17:21 April 13, 2012 by hisham
I think it might be better for him if he keep working as a lower and not as a lier because his last novel "Livet deluxe" worth nothing.
01:50 April 14, 2012 by mikewhite
Surely: "defending ALLEGED criminals" - they only become criminals after the court has found them guilty.
07:36 April 14, 2012 by @s-reader
He looks like my iraki boyfriend from highschool ...hmmmm was a good time!! Quelle ressemblance!!
16:49 April 14, 2012 by libertarianism
Dear David / TL, how about more articles on Swedish writers present and past, please? And writing exercerpts instead of or in addition to photo gallery? Hälsn.
19:00 April 17, 2012 by Canada1
Just read "Easy Money". The story is intriguing but, as an English speaker, I think the translation is atrocious. I believe I understand the style of writing that Lapidus uses ... American writer Elmore Leonard uses a similar style. The translation seems to be mostly literal and that does not work. The short, snappy, thoughts should make the reader believe the characters are hip and edgy but they all sound laughable. I wish the publisher had used a translator with knowledge of contemporary North American English.
01:33 April 20, 2012 by Coalbanks
Americans do their style better, develop your own style, Swedes. Agree with 34 opinion. thanks
Today's headlines
Sweden seeks ban on foreign booze advertising
File photo: Shutterstock.

Sweden seeks ban on foreign booze advertising

Two powerful Swedish lobby groups have turned to the European Commission to try and get a complete ban on alcohol advertising on television, after it emerged some channels were dodging the ban by being registered abroad. READ  

Minecraft creator beats Beyonce in mansion bid
Markus Persson created hit game Minecraft. Photo: TT

Minecraft creator beats Beyonce in mansion bid

UPDATED: Swedish billionaire Markus Persson is reported to have outbid the likes of Jay-Z and Beyonce with his half billion kronor offer ($70 million) for a 2,000-square-metre Beverly Hills mansion. READ  

Accelerated for Ice Music
Ice Music taps Texas troubadour for new tunes
A scene from a 2014 Ice Music concert in Luleå. Photo: Graeme Richardson/Swedish Lapland

Ice Music taps Texas troubadour for new tunes

The world's "coolest concert" is set for a Texas twist in 2015 when Luleå's innovative Ice Music welcomes American musical talent from Austin, home of the South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival. READ  

Second baby on the way for Princess Madeleine
Princess Madeleine at the previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Second baby on the way for Princess Madeleine

UPDATED: Sweden's Royal Court has announced that Princess Madeleine is pregnant with the second child of her financier husband Chris O'Neill. READ  

Video
Video: The best & worst of Swedish Christmas
Tom says he is a big fan of the food. Photo: The Local

Video: The best & worst of Swedish Christmas

What's the best thing about Christmas in Sweden? The worst? And perhaps most importantly, the tastiest? The Local's Paul O'Mahony hits the Old Town's Christmas market as the first snow of the season falls to find out more. READ  

Swedish 'butcher' murderer gets 16 years
Forensic experts examine the scene where the victim's body was dumped in Askersund. Photo: Pavel Koubek/TT

Swedish 'butcher' murderer gets 16 years

A Swedish woman who killed and then hacked up a female love rival has been sentenced to 16 years in prison and also ordered to pay damages to the victim's family. READ  

Bildt works as babysitter on Swedish reality show
Carl Bildt. Photo: Sergei Chuzavkov/AP

Bildt works as babysitter on Swedish reality show

Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been given a cautious thumbs up for his child-minding abilities after appearing on a Swedish Celebrity Babysitter show. READ  

The Local Recipes
How to make Swedish Christmas ham
The traditional Christmas ham. Photo: Max Holmberg/Flickr

How to make Swedish Christmas ham

Every year Swedes devour the Christmas ham - or julskinka - with relish, with an estimated 7,000 tonnes sold annually. But just how do you prepare this succulent delight? Fear no more as The Local finds out. READ  

Ikea packs up furniture sales in Russia

Ikea packs up furniture sales in Russia

Swedish furniture giant Ikea has called a temporary halt on sales of its kitchen furniture and appliances in Russia as it couldn't cope with the extra demand brought on by the fall in the Russian rouble. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: December 18th to 25th
National
'Unprecedented' Russian activity: Armed Forces
Society
Interview: The Local chats with Melinda Gates
Society
VIDEO: Stockholmers try out some Swedish tongue twisters
Society
Eight things to do when it gets dark in Umeå
Blog updates

19 December

Editor’s Blog, December 19th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Father Time has taken another week from us, but never fear – good old Father..." READ »

 

17 December

An Exclusive Interview with Melinda Gates (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"This week Nobel peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi urged the world to “globalize compassion”, as he..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Inside Sweden's first 'light therapy' school
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: December 17th
Estelle through the years
Gallery
Princess Estelle through the years
Society
Why are there so many 100-year-olds in one Swedish town?
Society
Is it time to better celebrate Sweden's diverse identity?
Gallery
Property of the week: Huddinge
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
National
CATCH UP: Russian plane in Baltic near-miss drama
Lifestyle
How my compass drew me to Sweden
National
The man whose memory you need to remember
Gallery
People-watching: December 13th - 14th
Sponsored Article
How to get your own office anywhere in the world
Politics
'Our party will stand alone': Stefan Löfven
Society
The Local chats to Ruben Östlund, director of Golden Globe nominated Force Majeure
Lifestyle
Ten things to know before a Swedish party
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: December 12th to 19th
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The 2014 Nobel Banquet
National
The Local's guide to the Nobel Prizes 2014
Education
Introducing... Education in Stockholm
Society
The Swedish Christmas market with a twist
Lifestyle
Why do so many Swedes have tattoos?
Society
Get 20% off Swedish Christmas decorations
National
Dewani family: We only heard half the story
Business & Money
Business in Stockholm: 'efficiency is money'
Gallery
Property of the week: Östermalm
National
Meet the Swedes hosting festive feasts for 'lonely' guests
Gallery
TIMELINE: Swedish honeymoon killing murder trial
Gallery
People-watching: December 7th
Gallery
IN PICTURES: What's it like to fly planes in Sweden?
National
Submarine hunters 'robbed' of reward cash
National
The Local's Countdown to Christmas
National
'Dangerous' USB charger recalled in Sweden
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's King and Queen wrap up France tour
National
Analysis: Should Snowden get asylum in Sweden?
National
Swedish schoolboy in female saint role row
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's political crisis unfolds
Gallery
People-watching: December 3rd
National
What happened to Sweden's ice bucket cash?
Lifestyle
Top Swedish songs of the month
Sponsored Article
SIS: the thinking behind globalised learning
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Family life in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

829
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists.
Details and how to apply
Counselling and Psychotherapy in English
Sometimes living in another culture can cause stress, confusion and feelings of sadness and loneliness. Talking to a professional psychotherapist/counsellor might help you. I am a UKCP Reg. psychotherapist. My practice is in Södermalm, Stockholm.
Contact me to discuss your options