If you already know about Arne Dahl then you probably met the author’s ensemble detective series courtesy of the BBC4 Swedish TV drama which holds its head high among the very best Nordic noir. The books in the Intercrime series are even better…
Although this is the third novel in the series you can skip the preceding two and cut to the chase: the opening chapters deftly explain the salient points of the back story. There’s a thoroughly enjoyable sequence of ‘getting the gang back together’ during which we’re reacquainted with the disparate characters who form Sweden’s specialist national crime squad. The team was disbanded after everything spiralled a little too wildly out of control at the end of the last book – but now an explosion in a prison, a killing in a pub, an investigation into hardcore porn and a host of other apparently unconnected threads all lead back to an ominous threat to public safety.
The real pleasure in Arne Dahl’s novels comes not from the intertwined plot threads and his skilful manipulation of time, place and person which draws the reader into an increasingly tense scenario. Although they are pretty damn good now I come to think about it. No, the real reward comes from the characters: half a dozen separate, credible, involving individuals whose interactions are inescapably fascinating. Hjelm and Holm: always on the edge of an affair, so in tune with each other that they pick up the slightest vibration of a hint from whichever suspect they’re interrogating. Söderstedt and Norlander: the ice-cold elf and the unexpected father. Nyberg, recovered now from his youthful steroid abuse and so desperately trying to make amends to his estranged family. And new girl Sara – who integrates into the team as she struggles to solve a very personal mystery and discover who has betrayed her own investigation.
To The Top Of The Mountain is a complicated and intense novel, punctuated with wry moments of sly wit and graphic savagery. The writing has been skilfully crafted and translated to balance the pace of the investigation with poignant personal moments and gripping action sequences. For some, those more accustomed to American thrillers I suspect, it may take too long to establish the characters and deliver the final punchline. Some readers will be frustrated by the meandering path of the plot which circles ever tighter around the nub of the matter – but for me that’s what makes books like this so interesting.
It’s not so much about the destination: it’s getting there that counts.
Recommended for fans of Karin Fossum, Arnaldur Indriðason and Åke Edwardson. Also, if you enjoy TV series like The Protectors or Unit One.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
To The Top Of The Mountain by Arne Dahl is available in English at Amazon