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When two top-level financiers are murdered in quick succession, the Swedish authorities decide to put together a special unit to investigate. Fortunately for our hero, Paul Hjelm, he is asked to join just as he is about to be fired for shooting an immigrant during a hostage situation. As the murder toll continues to climb, the unit is following several leads. Are the crimes to do with something in the men’s pasts? Or is the murderer an insane serial killer? Could the victims’ membership of a Masonic-type secret society be involved? Or is the spate of murders a sign that the Russian Mafia is moving in? Apparently this book was previously published under the name Misterioso – a reference to the Thelonious Monk album of the same name.
I watched the first episode of the Arne Dahl TV series last Saturday (BBC4) and was seriously underwhelmed. I’m glad to say the book impressed me considerably more. Like most Nordic crime, there’s a lot of angst in the book and dark undertones about a society that doesn’t ever seem very comfortable with itself. However our hero, though of course profoundly miserable and with the obligatory unhappy home life, at least is neither a total maverick nor a drunk.
The book is well written and very well translated by Tina Nunnally, and the plotline is satisfyingly complex. Each of the leads is followed through to its conclusion and each shows us a different aspect of Swedish society. The various members of the A-unit are a bit stereotyped – the foreigner (so we can talk about questions of race), the intelligent one who wrestles with moral questions, the older one, trying to prove he’s still got it, and, of course, the beautiful and complicated token female whose main purpose seems to be to allow Hjelm to indulge in some rather unnecessary sexual fantasizing. However, they are in the main developed well and we see them change from a group of strangers into a cohesive team as the book progresses.
Overall, this is an enjoyable, well plotted police procedural with elements of both mystery and thriller and a good deal better than the TV adaptation would suggest. I’ll certainly be looking forward to the author’s next, Bad Blood, which I believe is due out in August 2013, although apparently with a different translator.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.