I'm a huge mystery fan and am easily disappointed. In this book, I found the root of all great mystery novels--a good plot, interesting characters and interesting places. For those of you who read the" Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy, you will find yourself back in Sweden, and if you're still unfamiliar with Sweden, get a map. Seriously, it helped a great deal. Mention of "Western Sweden" had me thinking, "Isn't that Norway?" So I dug up an online map of Sweden and vicinity and was able to follow the places in the story. (One of my great-grandfathers is from Lülea, Sweden up by the Arctic Circle, but I've not yet visited Sweden; so I really did need the map!) If you imagine Scandinavia made up on the north as three fingers pointing downwards towards Denmark, Norway is on the west, Sweden is in the middle and Finland is to the east. The southern tip of Finland is just north of Estonia, and its capital is just across the Gulf of Finland is Tallinn, Estonia. If you look at Stockholm, Helsinki, and Tallinn, you will see they are relatively close to one another separated by the Gulf of Bothnia. The "West Coast" of Sweden is near Denmark, and its major port, Goteborg is Sweden's gateway to the North Sea. (The burger ad featuring Whoknöwswhere is no help at all.)
Besides the map, download Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso (Live)." Having been introduced to Monk's music when it was on vinyl, I found that it lost nothing on my iTunes version. Now you're ready to have some great fun with this book.
On the investigative side of the ledger is detective Paul Hjelm. About to be fired (or demoted, or whatever they do in Sweden to discipline cops), he is snatched up into an elite investigative team to find a serial killer who is bumping off Swedish business leaders. Soon we learn that the killer enjoys listening to Monk's Misterioso while rubbing out a number of businessmen. Throughout the book there is a reference to the Palme case and why the urgency of solving the "Power Killer" case is so important in reference to Palme. For those who don't know, Olof Palme was the Swedish prime minister who was assassinated in 1986. The case was never solved, and it is a sticking point with the Swedish police. Hence, any whiff of crimes that involve elimination of political or business leaders in Sweden is cause for immediate and firm action. Hjelm is no Sam Spade, Elvis Cole or Archie Goodwin. Nor is he Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe, two confirmed bachelors. Further, he is wholly and firmly a Swede. Lest we be entangled in detective provincialism, it is important to understand the somewhat serious nature of the Swedes. Maybe "serious" isn't the right word, and compared to the Finns, Swedes are wild and crazy guys. There's a certain purposefulness in the Swedish culture, and unlike the morose fatalism of the neighboring Russians, the Swedes expect to get things done. Consider the fact that Sweden with the population of New Jersey has two world-marketed cars (Volvo and Saab) and even their own jets.
The book jars the reader's attention early on with Hjelm's relationship with his wife, which goes from bad to worse as the book progresses. It is not a new invention in detective or cop novels to have heros with relationship problems. The attention demanded by the nature of police work drains relationships in both novels and real life. However, the reader is not overly burdened by Hjelm's family problems. Hjelm is way too busy going after the serial killer. The characters that the author, Arne Dahl, throws together making up the special 'A Unit' tasked with tracking down the 'Power Killer' is a wonderful mix. One is a "blackhead," (a non-blonde, non-Scandinavian) with Spanish origins but born in Sweden. Another is a crazy Finn, another a woman and a witch's brew of hand-picked characters that comprise the special squad led by a head-butting cop who enters and leaves the team's conference room by a special door.
During the course of the investigation, the reader may find him/herself rooting for the serial killer as the killer's victims are pretty creepy themselves. We're also introduced to different mob-like groups from the region, and that's why it helps to know something about the area's geography. (Interestingly, none of the mobs are of Swedish origins but left-overs from the Soviet regime.) The mystery takes the reader on a guided tour of Sweden, a side trip to Tallinn, Estonia, which will definitely give the reader pause about messing with those Estonians, and all over Sweden. You'll find lots of dangerous characters, less than sterling cops, and plenty of red herrings (as well as picked ones) to keep you guessing and turning pages.
The ending dialog between detective Hjelm and the serial killer provides a surprising insight into aspects of the Swedish character: they don't like change. Life should be orderly and predictable. For the time-obsessed Swedes, whose high expectations for the reasonable and predictable are part of who they are; the chaos of the post Cold War world is often more than they can handle. A country made up of unchanging and predictable Swedes is seen as best for all, but of course it's just an illusion.