Blurb: After dismantling a bloody hostage situation at a bank outside Stockholm, Detective Paul Hjelm is dropped into an elite task force assembled to find an elusive murderer with a sophisticated method. The killer breaks into the homes of Sweden’s high-profile business leaders at night, places two bullets in their heads with deadly precision, then removes the bullets from the walls—a ritual enacted to a rare bootleg recording of Thelonious Monk’s jazz classic “Misterioso.” As Hjelm and the rest of the team follow one lead after another, they must navigate the murky underworld of the Russian mafia, penetrate the secret society of Sweden’s wealthiest denizens, and battle one of the country’s most persistent ills: a deep-rooted xenophobia that affects both the police and the perpetrator.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose. That’s what I was thinking as I read this book. Originally published in 1999 but only recently translated, Misterioso is as relevant today as it was then. Wealthy men are being killed in Stockholm—men who profited greatly while others suffered during the Swedish banking crisis of the 1990s. Could this be the killer’s motivation—payback? It’s a sentiment that resonates in a post–Occupy Wall Street society.
A special task force is formed to investigate the murders—a sort of island of lost toys, if you will. These are not the cream of the crop in Swedish law enforcement, but as the investigation proceeds and we learn more about them, it’s clear why each has been chosen and what special contribution each can make to the group. The interpersonal dynamics are fascinating and well presented, with just the right balance between insight into the characters and procedural details of the murder cases.
Many Nordic crime novels are very dark in tone. Misterioso has its dark moments, to be sure, and some disturbing imagery as well (the Russian mafia is not known for being gentle). But there are flashes of humor throughout that keep the book, and its characters, from being too intense. While all of the investigators have their problems—they’ve been pulled from various regions of Sweden, and one of them actually lives in the police station—these are not the stereotypical tortured detectives that one associates with Nordic crime. This is the first book in a series with an ensemble cast, so we only scratch the surface in terms of getting to know them all, but what we do see indicates that this will not be a solely plot-driven/procedural series and that these characters will continue to develop.
Dahl’s writing is smooth and effective—his descriptions of music are superb, one of the high points of the book—and the translation is unobtrusive and idiomatic. This was a fine debut crime novel, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.
My rating: 4 stars