Originally published in Sweden in 1999, MISTERIOSO by Arne Dahl is the first of what has come to be known as the Intercrime series. Based on this debut, one can only hope that the rest of the series arrives in the US rapidly. It is an addictive and riveting ensemble work that moves quickly through a smart, complex plot full of twists and turns.
"Based on this debut, one can only hope that the rest of the series arrives in the US rapidly."
Dahl, whose real name is Jan Arnald, opens MISTERIOSO with an enigmatic but ultimately important scenario. File it in your subconscious; then begin the real meat of the book, in which Stockholm police detective Paul Hjelm resolves a hostage crisis by thinking outside the box but unfortunately outside the manual as well. He is on the cusp of losing his job when he is summarily plucked from the jaws of internal review and made a part of an elite task force, comprised of a number of talented but somewhat odd ducks with a bushel basket of talent and abilities. The team has been assembled for the purpose of tracking down a very careful and elusive killer. The culprit, who appears to be selecting his victims from among Sweden’s elite captains of industry, waits in their homes and dispatches them upon their arrival.
What the team does not know --- but the reader does --- is that the killer then listens to a cassette containing a live recording of “Misterioso” by Thelonious Monk. He is particularly meticulous about cleaning up after himself, at least at first, leaving Hjelm and his compatriots without any clues at all. They begin by searching for some commonality about the victims beyond their stations in life, and find a number of them that send them down many false trails until they find a good one. It is the eventual discovery that the killer listens to the jazz piece that sets things spinning toward an eventual conclusion; two members of the team are jazz aficionados, which leads to a couple of wonderful characters who appear all too briefly.
Meanwhile, the killings continue, even as Hjelm’s personal life disintegrates on one front and shows some shy promise on another. He is also troubled by a growth on his cheek that seems to signify different things to different people. There is a bit of symmetry and irony at the book’s conclusion. You will regret reaching the end, not because of what happens, but because it wraps up a wonderful novel, a tiny bit of dragging in the middle notwithstanding.
I picture Tiina Nunnally in a warm room someplace translating the next volumes in the Intercrime series at a frantic pace. It is wishful thinking, but MISTERIOSO succeeds so well, not only as a mystery but also as a multiple character study, that I’m thinking future installments will meet (and perhaps exceed) the high standards that have already been established. Of course, Dahl has won multiple awards for his work in the interim, and that must certainly count for something as well. I predict an avalanche of books coming from our Nordic friends, many of them good, and hopefully the equal of this one.