As an experiment this review has been written whilst the episode aired on BBC4. Aside from proofreading to edit any grammatical errors no further changes have been made to the content.
Although his published credits dates back to 1990, it is with the 1998 printing of Misterioso that Jan Arnald embarked upon a critically and commercially successful career as a crime novelist which would run in parallel with his literary criticism and journalistic output. The use of multiple identities (Jan Arnold and the pseudonym Arne Dahl) is not a secret known only to a privileged few within media circles but enables the author and his publisher to issue titles to specific audiences without fear that a fan of one specific mode of writing will not feel aggrieved should they accidentally purchase a title that they would not ordinarily consider reading.
It is under the pen name Arne Dahl that Arnald has enjoyed his most significant marketplace penetration. Over a ten year period Arnald authored a series of crime novels about a division within CID that is alternatively referred to as the A team or Intercrime. Individual members of this team are recruited on the basis of research specialisms, career record, and biographical information which may be pertinent to a specific investigation. Whilst Arnald’s Intercrime novels have already been translated into several languages, including English, a set of new editions is to shortly be issued at regular intervals via Vintage Books. Am unable to ascertain if the reprints will employ the same translation as previous editions or if the publisher has commissioned a fresh conversion. However, in line with the TV adaptations that have been brought to us courtesy of the BBC and Arrow Films the first book, Misterioso, has been rebranded as The Blinded Man. Although ten books were written as part of Arnald’s Intecrime series this TV adaptation is sourced from the first five. Each book is spread across two ninety minute episodes. That the source of narrative tension is resolved within the space of three hours creates a very different viewing dynamic to that which enthusiasts have reported experiencing when watching The Killing or The Bridge but alternatively might facilitate new modes of appreciation amongst fans of Nordic TV.
The Intercrime division is tasked with investigating new breeds of criminality that have emerged in Sweden since the assassination of Olef Palme. In terms of lawlessness as a social development, the ever changing relationship with former Soviet states with regards judicial courses of action and the ease with which relaxed borders enable the importation of illegal practices is a central theme found in many examples of contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction and due to the nature of the illegal activity contained in this opening episode its inclusion is simultaneously inevitable, edifying, and gratifying.
A serial killer is targeting wealthy businessmen and in this première installment the police must gather evidence to ascertain any potential connections between the deceased, prevent further murders from taking place, explore all possible motives that might have triggered this wave of assassinations, and catch the executioner. Although billed as a series revolving around an ensemble cast, the first episode primarily focuses on Paul Hjelm (Shanti Roney), a police officer whose entire career is jeopardized when he implements what he feels is to be a socially responsible method of ending a hostage crises. One that enables the captor to live, albeit wounded by gunshot, and for his family to evade deportation. Whilst being interviewed by an internal investigation team he is head-hunted by Jenny Hultin (Irene Lindl) on the basis of his previous exemplary career record. The appointment to the A-team is provisional and Hjelm is warned that it might be terminated at any moment should the internal investigation find he is guilty of unprofessional conduct. As is the norm with TV detectives Hjelm’s devotion to upholding the law means his private life suffers. He displays a highly developed level of sympathy when interviewing the surviving victim of a sexual attack and later on when encountering the grief deranged brother of another victim who was so traumatized by the experience that she took her own life. This ability to empathize with others and alleviate their distress doesn’t translate into the home context. Hjelm’s life partner is made to worry unnecessarily about his career for several hours due to his not accepting her telephone calls.
Although Hjelm is the primary identification figure that enables the viewer to access the fictional world contained within the narrative biographical information concerning other members of the team is relayed primarily in the form of dramatic action as opposed to expository dialogue. For instance, the precarious balance between domestic and professional duties is exemplified in a scene in which Arto Söderstedt (Niklas Åkerfelt) is eager to reach his workplace but in attempting to deliver his children to the school he manages to drive off leaving a son behind.
In the latter moments of the episode the televisual canvas broadens as Viggo Norlander (Claes Ljungmark) travels to Talinn, Estonia to investigate a potential lead concerning a Russian mafia organization. In the final minutes of this sequence the occasional references to mythological belief systems that have up until now been loosely threaded suddenly function as foreshadowing. in the course of ninety minutes we’ve been treated to explanations of various elements of historical Nordic belief systems and the episode closes with a re-enactment of the crucifixion narrative paralleled with a team member engaged in a worshipful act, choir singing.
Within a very packed ninety minutes this first episode covers a tremendous amount of story information. A number of tropes present in other Nordic Noir shows we have seen over the last few years are present; threats against the feminine, distaste for excessive capitalism, issues surrounding immigration, and policing as destructive to the family unit. However, at present aside from Hjelm I’m left with a nagging feeling that I don’t know the other characters well enough to sympathize with them but this may change in the coming weeks as I get better acquainted with Arnald’s fictional world.
Arne Dahl is available to pre-order on DVD:
The book of The Blinded Man is available to buy from Amazon and all other booksellers;
For further information on Arne Dahl and Scandinavian fiction Barry Forshaw’s book Nordic Noir – Pocket Essentials is the best place to start;