Friday, 27 December 2019

To the Top of the Mountain - Arne Dahl

Arne Dahl is the pen-name of Jan Arnald. To the Top of the Mountain (2000) is the third of his ten-novel A-Unit series, featuring a select team of special investigators working out of Stockholm. The A-Unit has been disbanded as we start this novel. Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm are still in Stockholm but now reduced to handling routine inquiries - like the young football fan who has a glass smashed on his skull in a dingy bar. This is the crime that starts everything rolling, but it has nothing to do with the main narrative. It turns out that everyone else in the bar - everyone who is not a football fan, attending a hen party, scoping out the hens or other chickens in the case of the famous Hard Homo - is part of complex overlapping conspiracies. The next thing we know a second rate gangster is blown up in his prison cell and emissaries of the principal gangster are gunned down by fascists. The main story is under way and the A-Unit is re-established to sort it all out.

This is one of the traits I like most in Arne Dahl - the way the story rolls out in all directions, to be gathered neatly together in the end. His characters are also compelling. We have the characters we already know (either on TV or in Europa Blues, the other Arne Dahl I have read and reviewed here): Hjelm and Holm, the star-crossed lovers; the Finnish thinker Arto Soderstedt; the new and unexpected midlife father Viggo Norlander; ambitious immigrant Jorge Chavez; and Sweden's biggest policeman Gunnar Nyberg, played on TV by the World's Strongest Man (1998), Magnus Samuelsson. At the start of this novel Gunnar is working for the paedophile police. He doesn't like the work but he is committed to rounding up the perpetrators. Initially he is only prepared to return part-time to the A-Unit. This introduces new characters, notably Sarah Svenhagen, daughter of Chief Forensic Technician Brynholf. Sara is investigating a highly secretive lead which ultimately leads to the unravelling of the over-arching case. Sara is a magnificent character. By the quarter-point I was captivated by her.

I liked Europa Blues. I watched and enjoyed both series of Arne Dahl on BBC4. But To the Top of the Mountain is better than Europa Blues, partly because it explores the psychology of its characters to an extent that's just not possible in TV adaptations. Arne Dahl is a major player in contemporary crime fiction.

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