3.9 14
by Arne Dahl

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The first novel in Arne Dahl’s gripping Intercrime series—considered one of Sweden’s best—Misterioso is a piercingly dark and absorbing detective thriller.
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

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The first novel in Arne Dahl’s gripping Intercrime series—considered one of Sweden’s best—Misterioso is a piercingly dark and absorbing detective thriller.
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 Hjlem 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Katherine A. Powers
I don't know whether I would have read Arne Dahl's Misterioso—yet another Swedish crime novel, by yet another hitherto-unknown-to-us Swedish crime writer—if I hadn't noticed that it was translated by the great Tiina Nunnally. I first came across this master of Englishing in her scary and wondrous translation of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales and, later, in her stunning rendering into crisp and vivid English of Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter. That was a momentous discovery; so disguised and disfigured had this magnificent work been by its musty, faux-archaic 1920s translation that I had previously found it unreadable. My own command of Swedish doesn't extend beyond "kn„ckebr"d" and "sm"rg†sbord," so I'm unable to tell you if Nunnally's translation of Misterioso is true to the original; I can say that it seems true to the spirit of this odd and most engaging story.

Paul Hjelm is an alienated, chronically weary policeman who does things his own way—a familiar figure to readers of Swedish crime novels It is the mid-1990s, and we meet Hjelm as he intervenes in a hostage situation without waiting for specialists to arrive on the scene. This maverick act, successful and celebrated by the media though it is, nearly leads to his dismissal. Instead he is assigned to the A-Unit, a newly created task force for solving major crimes quickly by cutting through the tangle of mandates, prerogatives, and obstructive jealousies of competing law- enforcement and security agencies—the muddle and malice which turned the investigation of the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme into a fiasco.

The unit is led by Superintendent Jan-Olov Hultin: cool, peremptory, and legendary for his head-butting prowess in football. The list of his colleagues—all of whom are drawn from various police forces—includes a son of Chilean immigrants, who, as a "blackhead," is the object of ethnic prejudice; a surly former body builder and "meat mountain"; a scholarly Finn; a woman from the North Sea coast; and a former Stockholm policeman, a stickler for protocol and regulation, who evolves into a crusader so single-minded in his mission that he not only parks illegally but throws the consequent parking ticket on the ground. And there is Hjelm. A virtuoso of existential loneliness, he returns again and again to his own private reservoir of emptiness to extinguish the slightest flare-up of fellow feeling: "The more they got to know each other," he observes of his fellow unit members, "the harder it became to understand each other. As always." Sometimes you just want to give him a swift kick in the kn„ckebr"d.

The unit's first task is to solve the murder of two well-connected financiers, crimes that have the earmarks of a serial killer. Aside from the dead men being "titans of business," boat owners, and members of the same golf club, they also belonged to the Order of Mimir, a fraternal organization dedicated to secret Nordic rites, one that had recently hived off an even more arcane group. The last connection looks promising and, to the wistful Hjelm, downright attractive in its orderliness. "The fraternal order," he muses, "a fine old classic straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, had gone up in smoke—that type of puzzle intrigue belonged irrevocably to the past—and instead they had landed squarely in the present day: postindustrial capitalism, Eastern European mafia, and the collapse of Sweden's financial regulatory system in the 1990s."

Crimes in Sweden are no longer outrages committed against the backdrop of an orderly society; in contrast, they arise out of the country's economic collapse, corruption and dissolution, out of a widespread anomie. "Fraud was now an entire division within the service sector, just like any other division," one of Hjelm's colleagues reflects. "The old smalltime crooks stood on the sidelines, looking on and feeling positively honorable. Desperation and frustration were flourishing like never before in a society in which hordes of young people had been shut out of the job market without ever getting even a whiff of it."

Another moneybags is murdered, and another. Clues turn up, but they tend to be misleading or dead ends; hypotheses forever disintegrate and become, in their way, further instances of an overall loss of coherence and meaning. Looking for some kind of design, the scholarly Finn notes that the first murder took place on the anniversary of the death of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Is this a coincidence? Meaning what? When the killer is finally identified (on the anniversary of the of the Turks' invasion of Constantinople, as it happens), it is, in fact, thanks to "the inexplicable hand of coincidence," a hand that truly governs this plot. I don't know that the more fastidious readers of crime novels will rejoice in the large role given coincidence; still, it does have a thematic and notional purpose: It is coincidence alone that forms connections in the void. It is a thing of mystery and a simulacrum of fate.

All that aside, the novel's real appeal—and it is great and gladdened by wit—rests in the growing relationship among the members of the A-Unit, in the development of their characters, and in the what we learn of their pasts. I hope to see the A-Unit again; indeed, the book ends with the team having been ordered to return to duty on August 4th—which, though not stated, happens to be the anniversary of the death of Hans Christian Andersen. Coincidence? I don't think so—though its meaning, as ever, is dark.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Intercrime Series
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Something was forcing its way through the winter.
He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something. Maybe a warming breeze, a flicker of light smack in the middle of the mass of gray clouds, or possibly just the fact that he heard a splash rather than a crunch when he stepped in the puddle that all winter long had encircled his personal parking space—the one that still bore his name.
He paused for a moment and squinted up at the morning cloud cover. It looked the same as usual, hovering there like a virtual ceiling of security above the bank, bidding him welcome.
The same silence as always.
A short distance away was the little town, undisturbed, send­ing up only one sign of life: fine tendrils of smoke from chim­neys. He heard the repetitive cheeping of the marsh tit and saw it peek from its nest just under the eaves. Then he locked the car and strode the few yards to the small, modest door of the employees’ entrance. He took out his even more modest key ring and one by one opened the three deadbolts.
Inside the bank office it smelled like an ordinary Monday, a bit stuffy from the weekend, but Lisbet would soon air it out when she arrived second, as usual, bringing her flood of cheer­ful chatter.
He himself was always the first to arrive; that was the rou­tine.
Everything was exactly the same as always.
That was what he told himself several times: Everything is exactly the same as always.
He may have said it once too often.
He stood at his teller’s window and pulled out the drawer. He took out an oblong gilded case and cautiously weighed one of the long, bristled darts in his hand. His special weapon.
Not many people, even among the initiated, really knew how a dart was supposed to look. His darts were long—specially designed to four and three-quarters inches, almost two and three quarters of which were a long point that always surprised his opponents, and very short, bristly flights.
He picked up the three darts and slipped around the divid­ing wall into the office interior. There was the board. Without looking down, he took up position with the tips of his toes on the little black throw line exactly seven feet nine and one-quarter inches from the dartboard and rhythmically flung the three darts. All three stuck in the large bed of the 1. He was just warming up.
Everything landed where it should.
Everything was as it should be.
He clasped his hands and stretched them outward until they made a light cracking sound, then let his fi ngers flutter freely in the air for several seconds. Again he took the key ring out of his jacket pocket, swung back around the dividing wall to the public area of the bank, went over to the vault, and unlocked it. The vault door opened slowly, ponderously, with a muted groan.
It sounded the way it always did.
He carried a box containing thick bundles of banknotes to his teller’s station and spread them out over the work surface. He studied them for a moment, just as he always did.
Soon Lisbet would come drifting in through the employees’ entrance and start babbling on about her family; then Albert would arrive, clearing his throat in a slightly superior way and nodding stiffly; and last would be Mia, dark, silent, and reserved, peering out from under her bangs. Soon the smell of Lisbet’s coffee would waft away any remaining stuffiness and fi ll the office with an air of quiet humanity.
Then the scattered knots of customers would appear: the farmers fumbling with ancient bankbooks, housewives meticu­lously recording their meager withdrawals, pensioners strug­gling to avoid resorting to cat food.
This was where he had been happy for so long. But the town was getting smaller and smaller, the customers fewer and fewer.
Everything is exactly the same as always, he thought.
He went back around the dividing wall to play a quick round of 501. From 501 down to zero. A couple of triple-20s and some single bulls sped up the countdown. Exactly as always. The darts landed where they were supposed to. The slightly unusual wavering flight, which was the trademark of his darts, made them hit the mark every time. He had 87 points to go when the alarm clock rang.
Still engrossed in the strategy for the last round, he went over to the front door and unlocked it.
Everything was exactly the same as always.
Let’s make it simple, he thought, a simple 15 and a simple 20 and then the one double bull of the morning for 50 points, as the perfect combination: 85. Then only the checkout left, the double ring of the 1. Eighty-seven. No problem. The hard part was put­ting the third dart in the little black center of the bull’s-eye. A good start to the day.
A good start to a completely ordinary day.
He hit 15 in the outer bed and 20 in the inner, just to make things interesting. The dart teetered at the wire next to the irk­some 1, but it held. The wire trembled a bit from the contact. Then the bull’s-eye was left, right in the center. He focused his attention, raised the dart, lined up the ring with the long point, and drew the dart back four inches, exactly at eye level.
The door slammed.
That couldn’t be. It wasn’t right. It was too early. Damn.
He lowered the dart and walked out to the bank office.
An enormous, ox-like man was pointing a big, long pistol at him.
He stood there petrified. Everything fell apart. This was wrong, this was so wrong. Not now. Not now, please. The floor seemed to fall away from under him.
The man came up to the teller’s window and held out an empty suitcase.
He put down the dart, opened the hatch; stunned, he took the bag.
“Fill it up,” the ox-like man said in heavily accented English.
Quietly and methodically he placed one bundle of banknotes after another into the suitcase. Next to the bag lay the dart with the long point. Thoughts were surging through his mind, helter skelter. Only the bull’s-eye left, he thought. He thought about Lisbet and about nine-thirty, and about a bank door he had unlocked out of old habit. He thought about checking out in the double ring.
The ox-like man lowered the pistol for a moment and looked around nervously.
He thought about his ability to perform his best under extreme pressure.
“Hurry up!” snarled the ox, casting nervous glances out the window. His eyes were very black inside reddish rings.
Bull’s-eye, he thought and grabbed the dart.
Then all that remained was the checkout.

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Misterioso 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Lynie More than 1 year ago
The powers that be have decided to use Det. Paul Hjelm as a scapegoat following his handling of a hostage situation at the immigration office. Although Hjelm diffused the situation, it wasn't by the book and he knows he's in trouble. Fully expecting to be unemployed, instead he is picked to be part of an elite team of officers from across Sweden; hand picked because of their ability to think outside the box. The six member team is led by Jan-Olov Hultin and has been assigned the task of trying to identify and catch the killer who has been executing Swedish businessmen. With seven different egos to deal with, it takes the team a while to coalesce, but once they're up and running they're quickly immersed in their task. Following the theme of many Scandinavian novels, the team's investigation finds them wading through ties to the Russian mafia as well as dealing with the national problem of the Swedish fear and loathing of immigrants. Ever since I read Stieg Larsson's wonderful trilogy I've discovered more authors from that chilly section of the globe. Perhaps it's because of the long winters that force them indoors, or just that the Scandinavian publishing industry has decided to follow the coattails of Larsson's amazing success, but whatever the reason and lucky for us, intelligent and intricate Scandiavian mysteries have reached our shores in abundance. Jo Nesbo of Norway, the writing duo of Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom from Sweden, as well as Arnaldur Indridson of Iceland have all produced solid and enjoyable mysteries and thrillers that have been translated for the English speaking market. Award winning Swedish author Arne Dahl joins this esteemed group and MISTERIOSO is the first book in his crime trilogy. Lynn Kimmerle
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Arne Dahl has created a terrific Swedish police procedural, in the tradition of Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo and Henning Mankell. The characters are believeable and the plot complex (but not convoluted). Like his predecessors, Dahl does a wonderful job of capturing the Swedish condition. As with most contemporary Nordic writers, he takes the occasional jab at capitalism as practiced in America, but these have now become more amusing than irritating, probably because of the sad cultural and social deterioration of Sweden during the last couple of decades. Good mystery, good writing--I'm looking forward to the English translation of the next book in the series.
insurance More than 1 year ago
For the Swedes, it was different. Good tempo. I hope the whole series gets translated.
DonWallace More than 1 year ago
This novel really captured me, it's both tough and gritty as well as sensitive and also humorous at times. Suspenseful with an extremely solid plot. You follow an entire group, consisting of different individuals with different background. It's not just about the murder, but equally about the various character's destiny. The way the author lets his characters develop depth, and the way he depicts these traits is breathtaking. Can't wait for his next one!
FashionistaNYC More than 1 year ago
I had read a review of this book in the NY Times, I read reviews and shop online. The characters are all well developed and interesting , its well plotted and moves the story along. I am looking forward to the next in the series .. I liked this book better than Larrson's Millennium Triligy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a really good book.
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Anna_Sophie More than 1 year ago
I liked the book for it's writing and dialogue, I did not like the plot line or the character development at all. I skipped  several pages because it rambled too much. It's like the author goes in and out of deciding if he's going to make  it a character study or an intriguing plot line. I will likely read the follow up, but be ready to be disappointed with the ending and how the characters are awkwardly thrust together.
Psaxy More than 1 year ago
Alot of fun to read.......