I got acquainted with the novels written by the Swedish duo, Anders Roslund and the late Börge Hellström, when I first dived into the murky world of Nordic crime fiction and instantly their work struck me more as a revelation than merely entertainment. The reason is that the two authors had managed to transform their experiences into one of the most distinctive writing styles that I've ever encountered in the genre's works. Roslund has several years of experience under his belt working as a journalist, while Hellström was an ex-convict who possessed immense insight into the workings and machinations of Stockholm's criminal rings. The Ewert Grens book series stands out due to the protracted, however never tedious, descriptive parts loaded with bits and pieces of detailed information about several subjects having to do mainly with the state of the Swedish prisons, investigative procedures and the social realities regarding the rising criminality (sometimes even by minors) in the country. While they cannot be described as the typical plot-driven crime/thrillers, Roslund and Hellström's novels leave a deep imprint into the readers' minds and hearts, despite the gritty main themes, not least due to the brilliant characterization that not only the protagonist but the secondary characters as well.
Ewert Grens strays away from the clichéd stereotype of the Nordic detective and the hardboiled pattern that so much influenced several Scandinavian crime authors. Grens is an elderly, seemingly unremarkable investigator who is close to retirement and lives in a constant state of grief over the loss of his dear wife some years earlier. Even though, he is introverted and austere in his behavior to his colleagues, his sensitive side is most prominently brought forth in the parts in which he puts her wife's favorite song on the pick-up and dances alone, lost in his reminisces. As a character, he is closer to Jussi Adler-Olsen's Carl Mørck, the popular Danish cold case detective who was incarnated on the silver screen by actors such as Nikolaj Lie-Kaas and, more recently, Ulrich Thomsen. Thus, I was certainly expecting a different casting in the role of Grens as Leonard Terfelt doesn't even come close to the image that I've crafted in my imagination when reading the novels. A more experienced and versatile actor in the likes of the aforementioned U. Thomsen would be the ideal solution for this -major- flaw which, unfortunately, is just one of the many things that Cell 8 interpreted wrongly.
Cell 8 is the third installment in the book series and perhaps the one that is least oriented towards its plot, instead focusing on and debating certain scorching issues related to the death penalty, its cause and effects on the people who constitute the system and the victims. The pivotal question is this: Is justice nothing more than a veiled and officially sanctioned form of revenge as retribution? The story begins when a young American singer gets into a fight while working on a cruise ship. This event will incite a chain of events that will reveal to the authorities the young man's true identity: he is a former death-row inmate, John Frey (Freddie Wise) who is officially dead. How did he manage to escape from the American prison, and was he guilty of the crime for which they accused him of? All these questions will be answered in this 6-part series that unfolds in a dual setting: Sweden and the United States. As far as the timeline is concerned, there are some flashback sequences in which Frey narrates to his girlfriend, Grens's sidekick Mariana Hermansson (Mimosa Willamo) the event that branded him for life as a killer: the murder of his former girlfriend, the daughter of a prominent American politician, Edward Finnigan (Richard Lintern) who puts pressure on the authorities to convict John.
While the story could be gripping and arresting the audience's attention, the lack of proper pacing, the mediocre performances and a deficient screenplay drag the show down and eventually let down those who hoped for a faithful adaptation of the original source. By that, I don't mean the plot, which is more or less the same as the novel, but the show's mood and atmosphere is way off the mark. In many ways, it is a production heavily reminiscent of Box 21 which persist in the same defects that blemished the previous adaptation. There is no sign of the realism of the novels and the shooting style mostly owes its influences to the American perception of television productions. I was certainly expecting much more since I'm such a massive fan of the Roslund & Hellström ensemble and I was optimistic about Cell 8 as it was difficult to believe that it would be as bland and uninspired as Box 21 was. However, I was proved wrong and to tell the truth I saw the final 2 episodes just because I wanted to write a thorough review of the show. Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström are two iconic figures in Swedish crime fiction and they deserve far better.