Arne Dahl – Swedish Crime Thriller

Take a group of disparate cops, many of whom take an instant dislike to each other, bring them together in Stockholm, persuade them to work together and create a unit called Team A.  And yes, the writers probably have heard of The A Team and chose the name deliberately, but Arne Dahl takes itself far more seriously than that light- hearted American comedy-caper cop series ever did.  I’ve read that in the opinion of some TV reviewers that the series doesn’t rate as highly compared with The Bridge and The Killing and that it has a curiously old-fashioned feel to it. This, from reviewers in a nation where until recently one of the highest rating cop series on television involved so many elderly ladies and vicars keeling over and dying amongst the rose bushes that the village of Midsomer has fast become the most dangerous place to live in Britain.

Where The Killing and The Bridge differ is that they have fewer characters solving crimes and in Arne Dahl there are half a dozen or so.  So don’t expect to get to grips with all of the characters after just on episode.  Arne Dahl is ensemble TV drama, exploring the lives of its characters in the way that Six Feet Under and E.R. did so superbly well. 

The plots and the situation might not be as finely tuned as its predecessors in the Nordic noir TV genre, but once you get past that, Arne Dahl does a fine job of exploring the sorrows and joys of the characters’ domestic lives.

There is Paul, the trigger-happy cop who was facing an investigation for shooting a kidnapper and was under pressure at home – from his partner and teenage son. Then there is the body builder Arto who has found solace from his troubled past by singing in a choir. Meanwhile the brains behind the unit, Arto is a permanently harassed father of four, who piles his kids into the back of his Volvo estate, and who absent-mindedly drove off one day and left a child behind on the pavement.

Despite their membership of an elite unit, in democratic Sweden, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of pay and perks of the job:  they live in townhouses or apartments, eat at home rather than being able to afford to dine at smart restaurants and generally lead unremarkable lives. And when they want to escape the stresses of city life it is to borrowed log cabins in the countryside, rather than to fancy hotels.

BBC 4 is broadcasting four adaptations of Swedish crime novelist Jan Arnold’s books, the Arne Dahl of the title being an anagram of the author’s name.  The first two episodes, The Blinded Man were broadcast earlier in April and involved masons and Estonian mafia. Viggo, who lives a lonely life and is trying to find love on the internet decides to follow a lead all the way to Tallin, without telling any of his colleagues and nearly gets himself crucified in the process.

The boss of the unit, Jenny, confidently leads her team, without feeling the need to act hard-bitten in the way that Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison did to prove herself to her male colleagues.

Arne Dahl is a welcome addition to BBC4’s Scandinavian crime drama output and will introduce author Jan Arnold’s work to a whole new audience.  If the translations are as good as the TV adaptations, then Stockholm better prepare itself once again for an influx of crime drama tourists, following in the footsteps of the Stieg Larsson fans, eager to cross the North Sea.

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