An "A-Unit" Mystery by Arne Dahl
Review: A group of Swedish detectives, code named the A-Unit, are assigned to identify a serial killer, who is targeting some of the country's most prominent business leaders, in Misterioso, the first mystery in this series by Arne Dahl to be translated into English. It was originally published with this same title in Sweden in 1999.
Two corporate executives have been killed in their homes in exactly the same manner: two bullets through the head, all evidence carefully removed from the scene by the killer. Six detectives from various jurisdictions and branches of service are selected and tasked with solving the crimes. One of them, Paul Hjelm, was recently involved in a hostage situation that resulted in him shooting a Muslim immigrant. He's labeled in the press as a hero to the community, but a problem for his department since he didn't follow procedure; getting him out of the way for a while and assigning him to the A-Unit is their way of dealing with the situation. When a third executive is killed, but this time with a single bullet left behind, the team has their first opportunity to narrow down a potential list of suspects. But while some focus on the bullet as the key to identifying the killer, Hjelm looks for a possible connection between the dead men for clues.
As a police procedural, no single character dominates the action here, though Paul Hjelm has more page time, as it were, than the other members of his team. In a way, this is a bit unfortunate as he is the most derivatively drawn character and thus the least interesting person on the team. Still, one of the more fascinating aspects of the book is how the A-Unit learns to work together, quickly sorting out each other's strengths and weaknesses, and then bonding on a personal level as a cohesive group.
The murder mystery itself, which is set in 1997, a few years following the economic crisis that rocked Sweden earlier in the decade, can be roughly broken down into three parts, each spanning about 100 pages. The first introduces everyone and sets the stage for the investigation, with each member assigned a task …
"And Hjelm was spending his days leafing through the pages of the golf association's guest books. The criminal landscape of the past, he thought bitterly. No one was murdered anymore because of intrigues within fraternal orders or at golf clubs. Nowadays it was kinky sex, drugs, and money laundering that brought people down."
It is not a spoiler to say that their investigation involves all of the above and more, but during the middle third of the book, the narrative gets bogged down into procedural details, dead ends, and is generally rather uninteresting. The final part, however, when the group senses they're getting close to fitting the pieces of the puzzle together, is quite exciting and more than makes up for the slow pace of what immediately came before. (An aside: The whole mystery in the mist of the jazz song "Misterioso", which gives the book its title, is a little overdone.)
Uneven though it may be, on balance Misterioso is an enjoyable novel, a promising start to this series. Note: Arne Dahl has to date written a total of 10 books in this series, with Ont Blod (Bad Blood) being the first published, in 1998, though the second chronologically from the perspective of the A-Unit.
Acknowledgment: Random House provided a copy of Misterioso for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Pantheon (Hardcover), August 2013
ISBN-13: 9780375425363; ISBN-10: 0375425365
Location(s) referenced in Misterioso: Stockholm, Sweden
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Misterioso by Arne Dahl — An "A-Unit" Mystery
Publication Date: July 2011
List Price: $25.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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