Europa Blues, by Arne Dahl, was a really different kind of crime book, even in the genre I am so enjoying, the broadly termed “Nordic Noir.” Not realising this was book four in a ten book series, I picked it up, seduced by the synopsis on the back of the book which explains that his novel is about a series of crimes involving the grisly death of a Greek gangster, disappearing Eastern European prostitutes and the macabre murder of a famous Jewish professor. From the start, it was pretty clear to me that the police involved in the investigations had complex lives and histories to which I was only partly privy and which no doubt earlier books explored. But (and this is testimony to the strength of Dahl’s writing), at no point did I feel this disadvantaged me. Such was the power of the prose and the way the principal characters were presented and their back-stories hinted at, I felt I knew them and any gaps and omissions were filled. Better still, I cared about these people deeply.
With three investigations on the go and one man down (he’s on extended leave in Italy), the A-unit, or National Crime Investigation Department’s Special Unit for Violent Crimes of an International Nature (what a mouthful!), is busy, especially when, after a street thug is brutally murdered by a woman in a train station, they begin to suspect that all the murders are linked. When they seek help from Interpol and Europol, their suspicions are confirmed. But it’s when they ask one of their own, the man in Italy, to do some investigating there, that the connections reveal themselves. What’s exposed goes back decades and into one of the most violent and cruel periods of human history. Not one to shy away from both the individual’s or country’s role in human suffering and genocide, through is characters, Dahl is highly critical of Sweden’s “neutrality” or ability to look the other way. Exploring huge issues such as complicity and national shame, Dahl uses history to also critique the present in an intelligent and searing manner.
The final twists and turns are both shocking and gratifying.
The way characters are developed; the use of literature and history and the sense of social and personal justice that pervades this book is so strong. I was drawn into the story and the relationships – professional and personal. The writing is sublime and always powerful – though humour, particularly between those who have worked together and known each other so long – relieves some of the bleaker moments: gallows’ humour indeed.
A magnificent book that makes me long to lose myself in another in the series.