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To the Top of the Mountain by Arne Dahl

After the disastrous end to their last case, the Intercrime team – a specialist unit created to investigate violent, international crime – has been disbanded, their leader forced into early retirement.

The six officers have been scattered throughout the country. Detectives Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm are investigating the senseless murder of a young football supporter in a pub in Stockholm, Arto Söderstedt and Viggo Norlander are working on mundane cases, Gunnar Nyberg is tackling child pornography while Jorge Chavez is immersed in research.

But when a man is blown up in a high-security prison, a major drugs baron comes under attack and a massacre takes place in a dark suburb, the Intercrime team are urgently reconvened. There is something dangerous approaching Sweden, and they are the only people who can do anything to stop it.

Last summer I stumbled upon the Swedish crime drama Arne Dahl* for the first time. Here in the UK it aired on a Saturday night on BBC4, and after about only ten minutes I knew that I was going to be completely hooked. I absolutely adored the format of the show and the characters were wonderful. Recently, I was offered the opportunity to read the latest English translation of Arne Dahl’s work the third book in the Intercrime series, To the Top of The Mountain.

Initially, I was a little concerned that reading a novel after having watched a screen adaptation would prove to be disappointing. My main worry being that I would already know the outcome of events and this would turn out to be too much of a spoiler. I’m glad to say that this wasn’t the case. If anything, the increased depth of narrative in the novel helps to flesh out some of the character interactions that I was already familiar with. A perfect example is with my favourite member of the team, Gunnar Nyberg. In the TV version it’s mentioned that Gunnar is estranged from his children. I never really picked up on the detail of why. I appreciated that there was a history there, but it never really caught my attention. The novel however expands on this aspect of his back story and gives his character a more mournful edge that I really enjoyed. Reading this additional detail certainly helps to flesh out his personality and explains more about his motivations.

Fans of the television show, who haven’t already discovered these novels for themselves, are really in for a treat. Yes there are definitely a few subtle differences between the two different media, most notably the character of Jenny Hultin changes gender and becomes Jan-Olov Hultin, but for the most part this is using the same blueprint as its celluloid counterpart.

It’s the personal relationships between all the members of the Intercrime team that really sets this apart from other crime fiction that I’ve read. You get a sense of camaraderie that exists within this close knit group. They function very much as a unit, and the back and forth of the dialogue is great fun. Atro Söderstedt and Viggo Norlander in particular act like an old married couple at times, I love their constant bickering. Dahl’s writing deftly captures all the subtle little nuances of his characters and their foibles.

My other concern regarding jumping into a series three books in appears to have been entirely groundless. There is undoubtedly mention of events which are covered in previous novels, but I didn’t find that this hampered my enjoyment in the slightest. Existing fans are bound to get more from these throwaway references than I did, but more than anything it just made me want to learn more.

From a new readers perspective embarking on an Arne Dahl novel appears to be an exercise in trust. Multiple seemingly unconnected events are described and then woven together to create a satisfyingly complex narrative. Local football hooliganism, neo-nazi gangs, sordid international cyber-crime and drug smuggling all feature. With such a rich and utterly engrossing plot it’s hardly a surprise that these novels are so consistently popular.

To the Top of the Mountain is published by Harvill Secker and is available now. Well worth checking out if you’re a fan of first-rate crime fiction.

*For the uninitiated – Arne Dahl is the name of the television show and also the pseudonym of the author who writes the novels.

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