The Spark: Jens Lapidus and the Case That Started It All

Weekly Lizard

With his gritty, raw depictions of Stockholm’s underworld in Easy Money and Never Fuck Up, Jens Lapidus has quickly drawn the attention of critics and writers alike (the guy is lucky enough to count James Ellroy as one of his biggest fans). So imagine our excitement when he agreed to give Weekly Lizard this exclusive look at what inspires his novels…. And he’s only getting started.

I am a lawyer and a writer. But the literary world is pretty new for me. A few years ago, I was still just a lawyer. I vividly remember what ignited the spark. Why I began to write.

The trial had been going on for four days. Three guys had broken into an apartment and assaulted and robbed several people inside. We had reached the final segment (before the closing arguments), which we in Sweden call personalia. This is when the defendants’ background, education, psychological status, social circumstances, etc., are brought to the attention of the court in order to help the judge apply an appropriate sentence.

The defendants were young—just eighteen years old. In trials involving young people, this particular judge always asked the same question: “Where do you see yourself in five years? Who are you in five years?”

She wanted to extend a hand, offer them the chance to explain that they at least had good ambitions and intentions for the future. Usually, the responses she got were along the lines of: I am going to make something of my life, get a job or an education.

But not that day.

That day, the opposite happened.

I recall how the guys stood up and started screaming. You must understand that the mere act of standing up is sensational in a Swedish courtroom. In Sweden, no one stands during a trial; not the prosecutor, not the witnesses, not even the defense attorneys. A Swedish trial is a very calm and civilized affair, even when it is dealing with horrendous events.

And they didn’t just stand there hollering—they screamed at the judge. “You don’t get it, you don’t understand the reality we live in, you don’t understand that it’s natural for us to do what we do!”

When I came home that night I turned my computer on and wrote my first lines of fiction. Those lines grew into a short story about an assault and robbery in an apartment.

But I didn’t write from the perspective of the police officer who arrives at the crime scene and begins to investigate the crime. And I didn’t write from the perspective of a victim, either. I wrote my story as seen through the eyes of a young perpetrator, a criminal.

This is what I thought: If, in Sweden today, there are people for whom it is natural to commit crimes, for whom crime is a lifestyle, then it was important to depict crimes from their perspective.

The Swedish crime genre has not exactly been known for its realism. Most often, the format has drawn inspiration from the British whodunit novels, where an investigator’s investigation of a murder is central to the plot.

I decided to change that.

In Never Fuck Up, there is a moment when one of the book’s protagonists, Mahmoud al Askori, robs and assaults a number of people in an apartment. I allowed my very first short story to flow into the novel.

It is a tale derived from the real Sweden.

My job and my writing are intricately connected. I am a lawyer—every day, I meet people who are accused of committing crimes, many of them guilty. And it is from those experiences that I draw my inspiration.