Posted: October 2, 2011 in review, Scandinavia, Sweden

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.”  

  1. Norman – Thanks for this excellent review. It is frustrating isn’t it when a series has this much to recommend it and hasn’t been translated in full. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, and I’m looking forward to delving into it myself.

  2. Maxine says:

    All excellent points, Norman. I really enjoyed this book and hope they get a move on with the translations! Re your point about the US translation and the Dagger, there may be hope for him yet as I see that Kjell Eriksson’s Princess of Burundi is eligible this year, as it is finally being published in the UK, though I reviewed the US edition for Euro Crime back in 2007 (approx)!

  3. Norman says:

    Thanks Margot.
    There is never enough time to read everything

    Thanks Maxine, I also read The Princess of Burundi what seems a long time ago!

    No rest for translators will be my new motto. 😉

  4. Ken Mahieu says:

    Misterioso sounds good and it’s available in the USA ! Thanks for this review and your forecast of the shortlist. Lots of new entries for my reading list. Ken

  5. kathy d. says:

    I read The Princess of Burundi a few years ago, and then the next two and recently, the fourth to be translated. I’d really like to read the series’ books that haven’t yet been translated by Eriksson.

    How does Misterioso compare to other police procedurals — Mercy (I liked), Nemesis (I liked, although to call it a police procedural is weak; it is rather a Harry Hole tornado) or Nesser’s.

    A plethora of Nordic police procedurals lately, or rather of translations lately, getting on the U.K./U.S. markets. It must be on the coattails of … dare I say it? Stieg Larsson.

  6. Maxine says:

    I think Stieg has stimulated pubilshers to try more Swedish crime. I’d say that Misterioso is more on the “political” end of a police procedural, eg think The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or a more accessible version of Lief G W Persson (from Winter’s Longing to Summer’s end). Like many Swedish crime novels, Misterioso is stimulated by the assassination of Olaf Palme – I’ve just started another one, Anger Management, which according to the blurb is also going to be related to that (no sign of it after chapter 1!).
    Newly translated books such as Dregs and Burned are more traditional novels, the former very like the Wallander series and the latter a “typical” but superior journalist’s investigation of a crime in parallel with the police. Both excellent (and Norwegian not Swedish of course!).

  7. Maxine says:

    Ps, Sorry, make that “Anger Mode” (not management) – by Stefan Tegenfalk.

  8. Norman says:

    All these books occupy slightly different positions on the political/police procedural scale and that makes it very interesting for the reader. It really is a matter of whether you prefer the more political/financial aspects of Misterioso, or the off beat Mercy, or even the virtually unintelligible Winter’s Longing. We are lucky that we have the translators to bring us the full range from thrillers to police procedurals of all types.

    Misterioso has some features of a Nesbo mixed in with Sjowall and Wahloo, and a dash of Adler-Olsen, Roslund-Hellstrom and Leif Persson. That does not seem to make much sense, but those who have read the book might see what I am trying to say.

  9. Norman says:

    Ps Reading anything Maxine writes is not good for the size of your TBR pile or your bank balance. Stefan who?? Ah Tegenfalk.

    Possibly in a hundred years all history will remember about Sweden’s experiment with an open socialist utopian society will be the assassinations of Olaf Palme in 1986 and Anna Lindh in 2003.

  10. kathy d. says:

    Well, I’d probably agree with Sjowall/Wahloo’s commentary that Sweden’s government was not much different from what already existed and wasn’t a utopian society.

    Anyway, what you say about Misterioso makes it sound more interesting, with features of writers, many of whom I like, thrown in the mix. Political/financial interests me, and I liked Adler-Olsen’s Mercy, Nesbo’s Nemesis, a powerhouse, and I love Sjowall/Wahloo’s books — which I keep trying not to read more as there will be fewer left to anticipate.

    And I know what you mean about Maxine’s recommendations. I just read the September reads, and I’m hearing cash registers crash, and think I should hide my credit card. But I will write the good ones on my TBR list. The problem is the library is limited — and late on getting new books.

    So I have to find the best deals. A good development is that I found Awesomebooks.com at Dorte’s website and they have used books of some not in the U.S. yet — and it seems as if they offer free shipping to the States if one purchases two or more books.

  11. Norman says:

    Kathy, it must be rather early in North America!

    I use the excuse that I get books I would have bought from Maxine, and the publishers, to spend money on other books I would have bought anyway. OK I am a bookaholic with no resistance. In Scotland they are banning cheap alcohol deals, I think they should ban the two books for £7.00 deals at Sainsbury supermarkets.

  12. kathy d. says:

    Norman, I was trying to answer this when a box came up asking me to sign up for emails. It wouldn’t let me make it vanish. So I caved in and then my entire message vanished as it wouldn’t let me post comment.

    Anyway, I also am a bookaholic and chocoholic and iced coffee-o-holic. I’m searching the Web for book deals night and day, comparing the different booksellers’ sites, used books, etc. I’m getting devious: Now I’m wondering for whom I can buy a book for a birthday or holiday so I can borrow it back to read. So it kills (figuratively) two birds with one stone. We all come out ahead. (Time to hide the credit card.)

  13. Simon says:

    Misterioso is, in my opinion, the weakest of the 10 books Arne Dahl wrote about the A-unit (but still a very good book). If you loved the first one, wait for number 3-5. Your mind will explode while reading those. Some of the best stuff I have ever read.

  14. Mrs P. says:

    This book has just risen up my TBR list: I love the idea of a pan-European crime series. Had heard about it vaguely from a Swedish friend – thanks for providing the detail!

  15. Mrs P. says:

    No wait – am getting muddled with his later Europol series…but still looks good!

  16. […] Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, Peter at Nordic Bookblog, Maxine at Petrona, Norman at Crime Scraps Review, Barbara at Reviewing the Evidence, Dorte at Djskrimiblog, Keishon at Yet Another Crime Fiction […]

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