Misterioso: A Crime Novel, by Arne Dahl and translated by Tiina Nunnally
Misterioso (c2011 ; 352 pages) is the first book in the Intercrime series written by Arne Dahl, pen name for Jan Arnald and translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally. I must admit that the prologue didn’t grab me and I set the book aside. Several weeks later, I picked it back up again and couldn’t put it down. That’s why I hate prologues because they are utterly useless. Anyway, this is a well written and well thought out police procedural set in Stockholm during the mid-1990′s. It’s what I would say is a thinking person’s thriller. I spent all day Sunday reading this book until I finished it.
Sweden is going through an economic crisis. Out of this financial instability, a serial killer emerges and starts targeting the titans of the business industry, catapulting Sweden into a panic.
A secret task force is immediately set up to counter the attacks. The A-unit consists of six members, mostly misfits, picked from districts from all over the country. Each are granted power and authority over all the other police agencies and report directly to the National Criminal Police or NCP. It’s a race against time to find the killer, who likes to listen to Melodious Monk’s “Misterioso” while he offs his victims. The killer’s modus operandi has been two bullets to the head, execution style, in the victim’s living room after a late night out. Unfortunately for the police, the suspect leaves no evidence behind, making this case urgent and top priority. There are references to the Palme murder; Palme was Sweden’s prime minister before he was assassinated. The case is still ongoing. The A-unit was established among other things, to exchange pertinent information with other police agencies, IOW, to avoid a rehash of the mistakes made with the Palme murder.
Much of the story, told in third person narrative, examines the lives of the victims while searching for patterns and connections with much of the revelations not surprising me much at all. The victims weren’t very well liked and had dysfunctional families. Their sexual proclivities tended to be twisted. The victims were apart of some separatist group of a secret fraternal order. There’s a weak link between the Swedish businessman and the Mafia all because a Russian bullet was left behind at one of the crime scenes. Some task force members were assigned to delve into the underworld of Swedish society and what they find is the Mafia’s persistence in exerting their influence but as far as what that has to do with the killing of two capitalists? No one knows. The body count continues to rise as the team try desperately to put the full picture together. The author throws red herrings all over the place and even gave us some misdirection in a couple of scenes.
Of all the characters in the story, I liked detective Paul Hjelm best. At the start of the novel he does a foolhardy thing that almost gets him fired. He fails to follow protocol during a hostage situation. Luckily for him he gets promoted to the A-unit, an elite group to help solve Sweden’s hardest cases. Paul is an old school cop (and a chain smoker) who has persistent feelings of emptiness and inadequacy. His marriage is falling apart (yet another predictable yet realistic character trait). Despite his problems, Hjelm doesn’t drink. I thought him a great character, flaws and all.
There are moments of humor in here to lighten up the mood. The camaraderie developed between all the characters felt genuine and real. There are surprisingly scenes/moments of eroticism in here. As for the villain: cold, calculating and methodical. This is a character driven suspense novel which made me love it all the more. Even when the characters are faced with some down time during this two month investigation, the momentum of the story never lets up.
The only negative thing that I can write about this book has to do with the denouement: I felt that it was anti-climatic. The story does feature the usual serial killer trope and adheres to most of the conventions/rules of the genre to my utter disappointment (partially joking). The writing is simply outstanding though (for a debut) and transcends any flaws that I ran across and for that I will give this book an A-. After finishing, I was ready to dive right into the next book. How long will that be? sob