Thisis the fourth Arne Dahl mystery featuring the Stockholm- based A Team (aka The National Criminal Investigations Department’s Special Unit for Violent Crimes of an International Nature. For those of you new to the A team it is worth introducing the various members. They are a pretty chequered bunch.
Arto Soderstedt currently holidaying in Tuscany with his large family thanks to a large bequest from his recently diseased uncle Pertti, a Finnish nationalist and Nazi supporter who fought the Russians in the Second World War, a piece of history which becomes more significant as the story unfolds. Paul Hjelm, a Detective Inspector addicted to listening to A Kind of Blue, the classic jazz album by Miles Davis. Jorge Chavez, “the only darkie in the block,” Hjelm’s partner, husband of Kerstin Holm and a fan of James Ellroy. Viggo Norlander, once an out and out bachelor who has unexpectedly found himself a husband and a father at the age of 50. Gunnar Nyberg, once Sweden’s largest policeman at 146 kilograms but now down to 100 in an effort to find himself a woman. Sara Svenhagen with the A team for just over a year and usually partnered with Kerstin Holm. Kerstin Holm recognised as one of the best police interviewers. Jan-Olav Hultin, Detective Inspector and reluctant operating chief of the A Unit, now reduced to wearing specially designed pads to control his chronic incontinence. Finally, Waldermar Morner, division head and official boss of the A Team. The other members prefer not to ignore him and suspect that his thick blond hair is really a wig.
The delightfully complex plot begins with the frenzied effort to escape, real or supposed, by a person unknown which ends in the wolverine enclosure of a zoo. Openings don’t usually come as exotic or as exciting as that. When Jorge Chavez arrives to investigate all that remains is the leg of a pale pink pair of trousers, with a few inches of bone sticking out, and, a bit further afield a finger, a thick gold chain, and a silenced luger. Chavez is convinced this is an underground drug killing; a reasonable guess, given the subsequent discovery of a playing card with traces of cocaine. Paul Hjelm is called to the zoo while investigating a shooting nearby which left a thirteen year old girl walking with her father with a bullet in her arm. The bullet appears to have been fired from the gun found in the zoo.
Meanwhile, Norlander and Nyberg are called to an incident at a nearby underground station. The lower half of a body has been found under a train, nearby is a head and two arms. In one of the hands is a mobile stolen from a young woman on the platform who had turned on her attackers, immobilising one and throwing the other under the approaching train. By the time the two detectives reach the station the woman has fled, leaving the surviving assailant in a state of shock. And, almost finally, Sara Svenhagen and Kerstin Holm are despatched to a hotel converted into a refugee centre to investigate the disappearance of eight women, all from Eastern Europe, suspected of being trafficked as prostitutes.
In a short space of time the incidents are found to be interrelated. The mobster found in the wolverine enclosure is a Greek pimp trafficking the eight women for a branch of the Mafia. One of the prostitutes had been in a call to the woman on the station when the attack occurred. So who is the mystery ninja woman? Where are the prostitutes now and are they still alive? Who, or what, had terrified the pimp to such an extent that he ran into the wolverines’ enclosure?
There is a final incident which the A team has also to investigate. The body of an elderly German professor of medical research is found in a Jewish cemetery hanging upside down in a manner similar to the way the mobster was murdered. How can the death of this ex-concentration camp inmate possibly be linked to the earlier murder, the death at the station, and the disappearance of the eight prostitutes? It is an investigation which takes all the collective skills of the A team to unravel, extends over much of the continent and various points in its history.
And it’s one which will delight even the most demanding reader. But it should be remembered that Europa Blues is a translation, one which is totally seamless and natural. So praise is due to the translator, the person whose skills are too often ignored by readers. At some points it does feel that the narrative is overdone and might have improved with some further editing. But even at such points the sumptuous prose keeps you going. Arne Dahl is fast becoming my second favourite Scandinavian crime writer. The favourite still resides across the border in Norway.