Thursday, 31 July 2014


Television has overtaken Arne Dahl. The small problem with the publishing of his 'new' novel, written in 2000, is that fans who watch the torrent of Scandinavian series on BBC4 will have seen the two-part adaptation of it last year. It's a small problem because the writing is a different enough experience, and the time-frame is long enough, for this to be a unique experience worth savoring on its own.

I wrote about Dahl's Blinded Man last year (you can link to that here) and pointed out its place in the Sjowall/Wahloo and Henning Mankell tradition, but how Paul Hjelm, Dahl's erstwhile lead character, actually isn't a protagonist in the same way as Martin Beck or Wallander. Dahl's sense of the team dynamic is very strong, and it is that dynamic that carries the books, and the TV series, though in different ways for each. In fact, on television, it is the casting which helps give the characters depth, and oddly enough, the one bit of casting that doesn't seem to reflect the novels is Shanti Roney, a bit too young and edgy for Hjelm. They've also changed Hultin, the unit commander, to a woman, but that actually works fine.

The novel begins with the Intercrime unit having been disbanded, after the events of Bad Blood, but they are reunited when a series of crimes – a prisoner being blown up in a maximum security prison, a massacre in a bar, and attacks on a major drug lord all seem to tie together. What makes it more interesting is that Gunnar Nyberg, the former Mr. Sweden, has been working with the paedophile unit, and is torn about whether to give up that work or return. Eventually, of course, that strand will intersect the others, in effect making the decision for him.

It's a fine story. Dahl works easily with complicated plots, and only once has to resort to the helpful hand of coincidence: Aarto Sodersted, the Finnish-Swede, is checking the personals in the Swedish equivalent of Car Buyer, and finds an important clue. Dahl's tried to set up the likelihood, but it still seems a catching point. On television, of course, such coincidences can be sped past in the car chase of resolution, which is an advantage.

But what makes the story work so well is Dahl's handling of characters. He's deft at giving out enough of his cops' emotions to create dilemmas within the story, but he's almost as good with the supporting cast and the villains, keeping point of view firmly in line, and thus creating the framework of a classic whodunit but filling it in with the depth of conflict which makes this one of the very best police procedural series being written anywhere.

To The Top Of The Mountain by Arne Dahl

Harvill Secker £14.99 ISBN 9781846558085

This review will also appear in Crime Time (

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