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Dahl, Arne - 'Bad Blood' (translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles)
Paperback: 352 pages (Nov. 2013) Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 0099575698

Almost simultaneously they fished their pieces of paper out of their pockets and, with effort, unfolded them.
Chavez's read "Corpse with holes in its neck". Hjelm's read "Neck-perforated stiff". They smiled weakly at each other.
Such good teamwork.

Newark, New Jersey.
The man experiences the waves of pain and knows that this is the end. Huge aircraft lumber past the tiny window but for himself the images and pain draw to a close.
Stockholm, Sweden.
Paul Hjelm is contemplating the changes in his life since working with the National Criminal Police's "Intercrime" team. Chavez, his energetic desk-mate, bursts in to let him know that an urgent team meeting has been called. The squad assembles and their boss Hultin tells them that a Swedish citizen has been killed at Newark Airport near New York. The sadistic profile of the murder fits that of a serial killer dubbed the "Kentucky Killer", known to the FBI for several decades. His signature is the use of a special tool to silence his victim's vocal chords whilst he tortures them to death. The bad news is that it looks as though the Kentucky Killer has taken his victim's seat on the flight to Stockholm; in about an hour's time a serial killer will land at Stockholm-Arlanda airport. Whilst the FBI is trying to track the name he is travelling under, the team will need two plans of action: one for stopping and arresting a known passenger; the other for arresting an unknown serial killer.
It does not go well at Arlanda. One Robert E. Norton chooses to run for it and is brought down amidst a scuffle that sees his bag spill its contents including one small hag of hashish. Meanwhile a faceless serial killer leaves the airport. The FBI identify the name on the ticket too late and he is one of the first through border control. Another fact. Twenty years ago, eighteen murders in four years. Silence for fifteen years. A year ago the murders start again and now an unfortunate Swedish literary critic is the killer's twenty-fourth victim. He has arrived in Sweden. But why?...

BAD BLOOD, first published in Sweden in 1998, is the second in crime-writer Arne Dahl's "Intercrime" series. Some were filmed for Swedish TV and broadcast in the UK earlier this year. Once I accepted that some personnel/chronology changes had been introduced by the TV version, I found the familiar characters of Hjelm, Holm, Nyborg, Soderstedt, Chavez and Norlander making up the Swedish "Intercrime" police team, a squad set up to track new forms of criminal behaviour and "violent crime of an international character". In BAD BLOOD they hunt an American serial killer. They must identify his reason for coming to Sweden and his targets before they can finally trace the man himself. Their search is further complicated by the mysterious fifteen year dormancy in the American killer's pattern. He had been seen to "die" in a horrific road accident by the FBI agent who had come closest to hunting him down but eventually the killings, with all their sadistic trademarks, began again. Is there a copycat? Or did the killer fake his own death? The search takes two members of the Swedish team to the U.S. where they liaise with the original FBI team that tracked the killer. The rest of the squad must uncover the trail of the first Swedish victim and of the victims that follow.

Reading BAD BLOOD, in a translation by U.S.-based Rachel Willson-Broyles, I found its characters more complex and rewarding than those given to us by the televised version. And, although the story's content is unflinchingly dark, there is a strong vein of dry humour in the writing; incidents such as author Dahl, who is also a literary critic, casting his first Swedish murder victim as an unpleasant "literary critic"; the resignation with which Hjelm and Holm accept the FBI's stereotyped version of their names as "Yalm & Halm"; wry touches pepper the team members' relationship with each other throughout. So it's a richer, more thoughtful read than my enjoyment of the television series had led me to expect and although I already knew "who did it" I became as absorbed in the story as if it were new to me. Dahl's writing has a pay-off as rewarding as the book's dark and exciting plot. I'd go so far as to say that this is a book that could stand re-reading and that's not true of many crime stories, no matter how terrific. Even if you have watched the TV crime series I recommend BAD BLOOD. And if this is anything to go by, then the rest of his series is worth checking too.

Read another review of Bad Blood.

Lynn Harvey, England
February 2014

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 30/01/2014 14:54