To the Top of the Mountain by Arne Dahl

In brief: The third book in the Swedish Intercrime team series, this book deals with a number of seemingly unrelated events – paedophilia, explosions and murder. Can the team come back together to solve it?

The good: The links between these crimes are something you won’t guess.

The not-so-good: I felt it suffered from a lack of a main character, instead focusing on all the team members.

Why I chose it: From the lovely peeps at Random House and The Reading Room – I know Nordic crime is a big thing, and I’m trying to expand my horizons beyond the most popular writers.

Year: 2014

Pages: 390

Publisher: Random House (Harvill Secker)

Translator: Alice Menzies (from the original Swedish)

Setting: Sweden

My rating: 6 out of 10

Sometimes I really dislike wandering in on a series middle of the way through. It’s like entering a party where everyone knows each other and you don’t know a soul. Fortunately, To the Top of the Mountain doesn’t come with the awkward feeling, giving a succinct summary of what’s happened in the first two books involving the Intercrime team. However, I felt that I didn’t know the characters well enough to distinguish between them (particularly the men). This was particularly difficult as the story doesn’t really have a main character, instead focusing on all the members of the team in turn (all six of them, plus their leader) plus some members of the child pornography squad. If you like your crime focused on the criminal acts, rather than the relationships and personal affairs of the police, this would be a good book for you.

The book starts off with a murder that has happened in a bar full of football supporters. Was it just a heat of the moment thing, or something more suspicious? Why did a man read through the entire thing? Who was the policeman who escaped the building? This is what Paul and Kerstin are trying to work out after the Intercrime team was disbanded. Arto and Viggo are called to an explosion in prison that killed an inmate – who did this and what is the strange explosive used? Meanwhile, Gunnar is fairly happy working on the discovery of paedophiles and Jorge is off discovering things. When a meeting of two gangs goes horribly wrong, the team are called back together. Could it be that all these things are connected? Only the team can work out who is behind this and why… (trust me, it’s pretty complex).

While I started this book eagerly, it took me some time to finish it. I found the crime parts interesting; Dahl has obviously got a huge talent when it comes to plotting and entwining the threads. I didn’t work out who the culprit was or even the next plot twist. It’s refreshing to have a plot so full of blind twists. On the other hand, I just couldn’t warm to the characters – they weren’t fleshed out enough for me to tell the difference between Arto and Viggo (I had to keep going back to check who was who). I also couldn’t work out their motivation beyond Sara, whose history to work in the child pornography squad was clear, but again, I would have liked to know more detail. Perhaps Kerstin and Paul’s relationship was covered heavily in a previous book, but why would she suddenly say, ‘I love you’ when they’ve been consciously at arm’s length for this book? The characters seemed to me to lack passion and drive, but perhaps I’m missing something and the restraint is more characteristic of the Swedish people.

What I did find surprising in the book is the amount of casual racism. Jorge is often degraded by others for his dark skin and the Serbian and Bosnian refugees are often referred to as ‘wog’ and told to go home. I wasn’t aware of the sentiment the Swedes had towards the refugees at the end of the war (I believe this book was originally published in Sweden in 2000). Jorge cops it even from his fellow police officers, not to mention those he pulls in for questioning.

If you’re interested in the plot and mechanisms of crime, I’d suggest this book. For me, it was too dry and mechanical to really engage with the characters.

 

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