Cell 8 by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

This could have been so much better. Polemics against the death penalty are fine, but not in this form, not for this reader.

Cell 8 by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

‘Worst of all were the clocks.’

This novel is part of a series by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström featuring Swedish Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens. The novel opens with John Meyer Frey on death row in Ohio.  Frey has been convicted of murdering his 16 year old girlfriend.  Frey was 17 years old when he was charged and convicted.  When all of his appeals are exhausted, he’s scheduled for execution, but dies before the sentence can be carried out.

Some years later, a musician performing on a Swedish ferry kicks a man in the face for groping a woman on the dance floor.  After the boat docks, the injured man goes to a police station to report the incident.  Grens, on his way into work, notices the injured man collapsed in a chair, has him rushed to hospital and has the man who kicked him arrested.

At this stage, the reader knows a little more about the prisoner than the Swedish police.  When the police realise that the prisoner’s passport is a fake, they seek information via Interpol and other agencies about his identity.  And yes, as stated in the blurb for the book, the prisoner is John Meyer Frey.  How was his death faked, and how did he end up in Sweden?  And now that he’s been identified, will he be returned to the USA for execution?

I have two major problems with this book.  First, the sole objective of the novel seemed to be to make a case against capital punishment.  Fair enough, I guess, but when the action to achieve this becomes unrealistic and when the characters cease to be credible, the story becomes ridiculous. Secondly, the ending: it is implausible and to me unbelievable.

Writing this review, I really believe that the novel could have been so much better.  I was fascinated early on as to how Frey’s death was faked, and how he made it to Sweden.  I was also interested in learning more about Detective Superintendent Grens, and had planned to look for more books in the series.  But, when the story gave way to a polemic against the death penalty, I lost interest.  As a consequence, this is probably my first and last foray into this series.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith