Misterioso: A Crime Novel, By Arne Dahl
This odd and engaging dark crime thriller is set in a dystopic Sweden.
By Katherine A. Powers for The Barnes & Noble ReviewSkip to next paragraph
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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 knäckebröd and smörgåsbord, so I'm unable to tell you if Nunnally's translation of "Misterioso" is true to the original; but 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 knäckebröd.