Before I read Misterioso I had almost forgotten the financial blips suffered by Sweden’s third way socialist-capitalist system in the 1990s, although I should have remembered returning from a city break to Stockholm to find that after we left the Swedish kroner had been devalued by 25%. I don’t think it was our fault.
One of the disadvantages of age is that when you come across a sparkling new Swedish crime fiction series that seems bang up to date with its financial details, and spot on social commentary, it turns out to be the first of eleven, and over a decade old? I wonder how many years will it take to translate the entire series?
Misterioso by Arne Dahl [the pen name of Swedish author and literary critic Jan Arnald] is the second book written, although the first chronologically, of eleven books in the Intercrime series, and it is the first to be translated into English by Tiina Nunnally, who as usual does an excellent job with the interesting material.
Misterioso begins with a brief prologue in a bank, and then the main protagonist Detective Paul Hjelm deals with a dangerous hostage situation in an immigration office. He shoots the desperate Kosovar Albanian holding the hostages, and becomes a hero. But he faces an enquiry by Internal Affairs for breaching protocol and not waiting for the hostage team of the National Criminal Police.
….well over fifty percent and fifty-seven percent. [foreign -born residents]. A forty-two percent arrest rate of immigrants actually indicates that there is a greater propensity to commit a crime among Swedish-born individuals in the are. The figures demonstrate no basis whatsoever for racism, if that’s what you are getting at.” Hjelm was quite pleased with his reply.
Facing the stress of the probable end of his career, as well as problems relating to his family, Hjelm is relieved to be offered a place in the special task force set up to track down a clever serial killer, with a liking for the jazz of Thelonius Monk*. The man who becomes known as The Power Killer has assassinated two wealthy Swedish business men. Each has been eliminated with two shots to the head a method used by the Russian Mafia. *The fact that a cassette tape is involved in the plot is about the only factor that dates the book back to the 1990s.
The task force is given the name the A-Unit and has unusual powers of authority over their colleagues in the NCP [National Criminal Police] and Stockholm police. The boss is Detective Jan-Olov Hultin, the others are all outsiders, who we learn later have certain idiosyncratic quirks.
They are, Paul Hjelm, our hero, Viggo Norlander, from the Stockholm police criminal division, Kerstin Holm, the only woman, who is from Goteborg, young Jorge Chavez the ‘blackhead’ [Swedish slang for immigrant] cop, Arto Soderstedt, a self confessed Finnish buffoon, and the huge Gunnar Nyberg, from the Nacka police.
The story follows the usual police procedural format as the team follow various leads, including a trip to Tallinn in Estonia, to see what connections they can uncover between the victims.
We have orders from the highest authority not to be too rigid when it comes to that particular type of smuggling. The Baltic countries are overflowing with refugees who think that Sweden is heaven. Apparently they’re using an old map.
These possible connections involve their mutual interests in golf, sailing their yachts, their memberships of obscure fraternal lodges, and their board memberships of companies with possible links to the Russian-Estonian Mafia. Some of the leads the team follow are complete red herrings, although they uncover some unpleasant behaviour, and some will eventually lead the A-unit, despite the obstructive interference of Sapo [Swedish security], to identify the perpetrator.
I enjoyed the way the characters were introduced, how just enough details about the team members backgrounds were given to interest the reader probably in preparation for the sequels. We learned about Hjelm’s difficult marriage and the interesting relationships with his colleagues especially the attractive Kerstin Holm, and of course the detailed methods the team used to work their leads. The hunt for this quite different serial killer was exciting, and I will definitely be on the look out for the rest of this series.
There is a trend in some Swedish crime fiction, especially with the early books by Hakan Nesser and now this book by Arne Dahl to create killers, who are not just deranged monsters, but sympathetic characters. This makes the books far more interesting as it allows the authors to get their message across without too much preaching.
I have been told that this book does not qualify for the CWA International Dagger because it is published in the USA, which is a pity because otherwise it would be a strong contender.
“Mon Dieu! This is starting to feel like that Agatha Christie story And Then There Were None. Have you talked to the servants? The butler?”
“Does Sonya clean your home?” “No, we have a different little woman, a Turk who’s been with us for years now. Iraz. Iraz Effendi. No Sonya is black. From Somalia, I think. I’m not entirely sure that she has all her documents in order. Although officially you didn’t hear me say that.”