MISTERIOSO by Arne Dahl

Book Quote:

“Not much had been said during the meeting, no new progress had been made. They were now working from the theory that the killing spree was over and that the deficit for the Swedish business world was going to stop at three and only three entries: Kuno Daggfeldt, Bernhard Strand-Julen, and Nils-Emil Carlberger.

They were wrong.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (JUL 13, 2011)

Misterioso by Arne Dahl is a unique and wonderful book. It is part mystery, part police procedural, part existential philosophy and part comedy. There is something so distinctive about this book that it resists categorization. On the surface, it is a mystery but so much of the novel lies below the surface, getting into the characters’ minds and thoughts as they live their lives and work at trying to catch a serial killer.

The title of the book comes from a piece of music composed by Thelonius Monk, a famous American jazz pianist and composer, now deceased. There is a serial killer on the loose in Sweden who is killing very rich and powerful men. The killer waits for his prey in the victim’s living room listening to Monk’s Misterioso on the stereo and when the victim arrives he is shot in the head two times. The killer views the music as “a pantomime, a peculiar dance of death.” The Swedish police put together what they call an A-Team to find this killer.

Paul Hjelm is one of those chosen for this select group. It is ironic for him as on the afternoon he was picked, he expected to be fired. He was with his colleagues that morning and there was a hostage situation in a building near police headquarters. An Estonian immigrant, here illegally, was holding a group of people in the immigration office hostage. Paul decides to take matters into his own hands and he goes into the office and shoots the man holding the others hostage. Paul feels very badly about doing this and expects Internal Affairs to fire him for his impulsive action. He acted on his own without waiting for back-up. Instead of being fired, he becomes a national hero.

The group gathered to form the A-Team is very original. There is a singer – a man who used to be Mr. Sweden when he took steroids; there is a Chilean who is called black-head because he is not blonde like most Swedes; there is a woman who also sings and likes to masturbate in her office; there is a Finn who has a secrets from his past life prior to coming to Sweden; there is a pedantic idealist who loves to give his political views. The reader sees how the team interacts and gets to know one another. Hultin, the team leader, always enters the room through a mysterious door that no one knows about. Where it comes from and where it leads to is a mystery.

As the team works together, there are four victims dead. The A-Team checks out all kinds of leads including the Russian and Estonian mafia, the victims’ businesses and personal lives, and they find out a lot of information. One of the victims is a pedophile, together the three of them tried to rape a woman who later committed suicide, and some of their businesses are involved in mafia corruption. “An amphetamine-babbling proprietor of a video store with private viewing booths in Norrmalm had cheerfully offered them some child porn films with Russian subtitles, even though they had shown him their police ID. He was arrested.”

Paul is in the midst of a marital crisis, an existential aloneness where he and his wife of many years, Cilla, can no longer communicate and find themselves totally separate. Paul has this “dreadful, unbearable feeling that we can never really reach anyone else. Never ever, not even those closest to us. The horrifying sensation of absolute existential aloneness. And now he saw this same emotion in Cilla’s eyes.”

We learn about the Palme murder that is a huge deal in Sweden. It is mentioned several times in this novel. Olof Palme, the Prime Minister of Sweden, was assassinated in 1986 and the murderer was never found. The A-Group does not want to be seen as ineffective like the investigation of the Palme murder turned out to be. It is very much in the back of their minds as they search for the serial killer. When they do not have luck finding the murderer after a month “either they were doing something fundamentally wrong, or else they were dealing with another Palme murder.”

We also learn about the prevalence of xenophobia in Sweden. The term black-head refers to anyone who doesn’t have blond hair as do most of the Swedes. There is a great deal of prejudice against immigrants and looking like a Swede is considered very important.

“The more they got to know each other, the harder it becames to understand each other. As always.” This background of existential ennui reminded me of Sartre and Camus, especially Sartre’s book Nausea. Paul becomes obsessed with a mark on his cheek, most likely a common pimple. However, he worries it’s melanoma and the mark takes on different shapes depending on his mood and the different crises he is facing.

Much of the dialog is tongue in cheek and I found myself laughing at the oddest moments. Tiina Nunnally did a wonderful job of translation and the book flows throughout. There is not a dull moment. It seems like the Scandinavians are having a true renaissance in crime writing and Arne Dahl is right at the top with this first in a 10 book series finally available to US readers.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 18 readers
PUBLISHER: Pantheon (July 12, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Arne Dahl
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More Scandinavian mysteries: 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Shadow Woman by Ake Edwardson

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Bibliography (translated only):


July 13, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, Sweden, Translated, World Lit

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