• Sweden's news in English
 

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
Swedes among least likely to die from cold
A woman stuck in snow in Malmö during the winter. Photo: TT

Swedes among least likely to die from cold

Cold weather kills 20 times more people as hot weather, according to a new global study, but despite Sweden's harsh climate its inhabitants are less likely to die in chilly temperatures than Brits, Spaniards or Italians. READ  

'It's good that Swedish defence is quick to react'
Swedish PM Stefan Löfven speaking to reporters on Friday. Photo: Wiktor Nummelin/TT

'It's good that Swedish defence is quick to react'

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has praised the Swedish Air Force after two Jas Gripen aircraft warned off a pair of Russian fighter jets that strayed close to Swedish airspace this week. READ  

Frozen berry sales up despite deadly sickness
Raspberries are a popular snack in Sweden. Photo: TT

Frozen berry sales up despite deadly sickness

UPDATED: Sales of frozen berries are rising at one of Sweden's biggest supermarket chains, despite the fruits causing a deadly bug outbreak at an elderly care home, which has led to other EU nations reviewing their safety guidelines. READ  

Interview
'Serious blow' to EU if UK leaves says minister
Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallström. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

'Serious blow' to EU if UK leaves says minister

Two months after one of Sweden's biggest diplomatic disputes in decades, foreign minister Margot Wallström is ready to look to the future. In an exclusive interview with The Local, she discusses Sweden's strong stance on the Mediterranean migrant crisis and why she wants the UK to remain in the EU. READ  

Refugees to Sweden left in six-month limbo
Sweden's migration officers face a huge workload. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Refugees to Sweden left in six-month limbo

UPDATED: Asylum seekers arriving in Sweden are now likely to face a wait of up to six-months before they can have their cases heard, as migration officers struggle to cope with the workload. READ  

Sweden's Eurovision star Måns through to final
Sweden's Måns Zelmerlöw is through to the Eurovision 2015 final. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Sweden's Eurovision star Måns through to final

Sweden's Eurovision hope, Måns Zelmerlöw, sailed through with his track 'Heroes' in a semi-final that was mostly lined with rock goth-inspired ballads. But will he nail his gnome fist bump in time for Saturday's final? READ  

The Local Recipes
How to make crispy Swedish asparagus
Crispy baked asparagus. Photo: John Duxbury

How to make crispy Swedish asparagus

Asparagus season is upon us. Swedes love this green vegetable, so what better way to celebrate than with some crispy asparagus baked with traditional Swedish cheese. Food writer John Duxbury shares his recipe with The Local. READ  

Russian bombers caught close to Swedish island
A Jas Gripen plane snapped in 2013. Photo: TT

Russian bombers caught close to Swedish island

Two Swedish Jas Gripen aircraft warned off a pair of Russian fighter jets that were flying close to the southern Swedish island of Öland on Thursday. READ  

Swedish 'whore' murder plotter faces charges
Police officers in Kalmar in 2013. Photo: TT

Swedish 'whore' murder plotter faces charges

A 20-year-old man alleged to have written notes about his plans to kill a "whore", an "unfriendly" person and an "immigrant child" has been charged with three counts of conspiring to murder in a gruesome case that is gripping the Swedish media. READ  

Video
Can you get your tongue around Sweden's nurse?
Photo: Fernando Audibert

Can you get your tongue around Sweden's nurse?

Whenever Swedish learners are asked what they struggle with, pronouncing the word for "nurse" always gets a terrified mention. Watch what happened when The Local asked some unsuspecting tourists to get their tongues around "sjuksköterska". READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
How two million Swedes are designing a 'house of clicks'
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Sponsored Article
Kristin Amparo: 'Swedes are afraid to be proud'
National
Five facts you need to know about Sweden's Eurovision entry
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: 9 questions every expat should ask
Blog updates

22 May

Editor’s blog, May 22nd (The Local Sweden) »

"Greetings from Stockholm, The hot topic in Europe this week is whether or not the UK will..." READ »

 

8 May

 (Joel Sherwood) »

"Daycare called today. They ordered me to drop all activities and come pick up my child...." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
What it's like to be a student in Malmö
National
Why do one in three Swedes want to join Nato?
Sponsored Article
'No one tells expats about unemployment benefits'
Features
What to do in Stockholm this summer
Sponsored Article
Why expat women are choosing Swedish natural birth control
Gallery
People-watching: May 20th
National
How Sweden and Saudi Arabia got back on speaking term after row
Gallery
Property of the week: Västra hamnen, Malmö
Sponsored Article
'There is no such thing as Swedish values'
National
Why is support for the Sweden Democrats at a record high?
Sponsored Article
ConnectSweden: Examining Sweden's place in the world
Gallery
People-watching: May 15th - 17th
National
VIDEO: Swedish man's roar scares off charging bear
National
'Gang conflict' linked to latest Gothenburg attack
National
RECIPE: How to make Panna cotta with cloudberry jam
Sponsored Article
'Educated immigrants get stuck in limbo in Sweden'
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Your May sun snaps
National
Sweden backs migrant sharing plan
National
Swedish boozing on the rise
National
Why Sweden's deputy PM was forced to apologize for Auschwitz analogy
National
End of the road for Julian Assange's arrest appeal?
Features
Booked to go to one of Sweden's sizzling music festivals yet?
National
Is Avicii set to play at Sweden's royal wedding?
National
Meet the Swedish boy who used to be a girl
Sponsored Article
How to change the world: Malmö to Mogadishu
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Estelle through the years
National
Why is obesity ballooning in Sweden?
National
VIDEO: The bizarre Swedish nurses song that's gone viral
National
Ecuador stray dog Arthur in Swedish charity race
National
UK expert: 'Sweden's current military state is alarming'
National
Elfdalian: a real language spoken in central Sweden in 2015
National
Is King's love for house tracks behind new military music?
Gallery
Property of the week: Hjortnäs, Leksand
National
Sex-crazed grouse terrorizes Swedes
National
IN PICTURES: Sweden's King Carl XVI turns 69
National
Dolphins spotted in Baltic
Gallery
People-watching: May 1st-3rd
Sponsored Article
'Never waste a good crisis'
National
Road trippers flock to 'The Bridge'
National
Why are Swedish supermarkets banning paracetamol pills?
Gallery
People watching: April 29th
National
"In many ways Swedes and Americans are kindred spirits"
Politics
Did you know four Swedish party leaders are women?
National
Swedish rescue team stuck on way to Nepal quake zone
National
Why Sweden's brown bear population is in danger
National
TIMELINE: Julian Assange sex allegations in Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Forshaga
National
Here's how a Swede became the world's boxing champion
Swedish Hasbeens
Sponsored Article
Is the world wrong to connect Sweden with sex?
Sponsored Article
'Impossible' to run Skanska without Bromma Airport
Sponsored Article
Want to study in Sweden? Read why Stockholm is the best choice
Sponsored Article
'Sweden must embrace openness and diversity'
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

3,376
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