A young football supporter gets knocked down by a beer mug in a well-known pub in Stockholm. He dies on the floor of the pub. It’s a meaningless crime, far from the heydays of the Intercrime, which has now been dispersed. Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm have to deal with it. And when they do, something happens. In the background of the restaurant there are things going on, things they slowly come to grips with. These things seem to be connected to other, and much more gruesome, violent crimes in Sweden this midsummer.
A man gets blown up in a high security prison. A massacre takes place in a dark suburb. A vulnerable young couple is travelling around Sweden. A wealthy drug baron seems to be under attack. A high ranking police officer starts behaving strangely. And somewhere in the near future there is a distinctive risk of a terrorist attack. These things are connected, but how? This is the ultimate challenge for the Intercrime when they finally get their second chance. With Up to the Top of the Mountain – awarded with The Deutscher Krimi Preis 2005 – the course of the Swedish crime novel enters a new level.
In the third novel by Arne Dahl, his protagonists have initially been dispersed. The heydays of the Intercrime seem to be over. Because of the soiled end of Bad Blood the group no longer exists. The officers are working individual cases, under far less heroic circumstances, and there seems to be no need for specialists on international crimes.
Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm, for instance, are working together for the first time in a year. They have to deal with what at first seems to be a very ordinary case of everyday aggression gone wrong. With mixed feelings of reunion joy and grey hopelessness they start interrogating the witnesses from the pub. They don’t really get to know that much more about the crime, the beer mug manslaughter, but they do get a grip on other things happening in the pub background. Quite a different scene is starting to appear, behind the original, and it is slowly getting more interesting than the foreground.
To the Top of the Mountain is a novel of luring the real truth out of the apparent truth. It is about not taking facts for granted. It is about the bigger crimes lurking behind the small crimes. It is a thriller of detection, of slowly developing an unexpected picture from a negative that seems to be altogether expected.
Hjelm and Holm are working merely through testimonies, and each person they interrogate manages, in his or her own way, to push the action a tiny step forward. There appear to have been two different gangs at the scene, a Swedish one listening to an English-speaking one with earplugs. And there were even more.
At the same time other parts of the scattered Intercrime are involved in other more or less interesting cases. The intimate partners Arto Söderstedt and Viggo Norlander – the former his usual, jovial and ironic self, the latter recently, to his own great surprise, a father – are still working together, but with much less stimulating matters. But suddenly they are called away to one of the three high security prisons in Sweden, where one of the prison cells has been blown up, with an intern inside. He is now being scraped off the walls, literally. He belonged to an untouchable gang around the drug baron Rajko Nedic, he studied to become Nedic’s personal lawyer, and nobody should have dared to touch him. Söderstedt and Norlander remains there to gather evidence and interrogate inmates when they discover that the inmate, Lordan Vukotic, was tortured before blown up. Somebody seems to be sending Rajko Nedic a message…
Gunnar Nyberg – the big cop who is now beginning to shrink and return to real life after two decades of voluntary inner exile, making inner amends for his violent past – was the only real hero in the previous case, and he was rewarded with a real dream job, at the prestigious Department for Child Pornography. It is basically a nightmare, but an extremely important job. He survives the horrors thanks to a double bind to the young Sara Svenhagen and the older childhood friend Ludvig Johnsson. When we first meet them, Sara Svenhagen has just found an important lead to a potential network of child molesters, she works her way to the borderline of burn-out. But she slowly finds something, something really important. The problem is that her boss forces her to work under cover, without informing the rest of the department. Her work situation becomes more and more unbearable. But she knows she has to go on, for the sake of an unknown number of innocent children. And suddenly she finds something vital…
Then Stockholm is shaken by a powerful and horrific showdown in a gloomy industrial estate south of the city. Five people are killed in a gunfight with all the marks of the underworld. But it also bear other marks, even more frightening. The marks, perhaps, of a truly ideological battle…
It also marks a rebirth of the expert team called “The National Police’s Special Unit for International Violent Crimes”, also known as the Intercrime. Against all odds they get a second chance, and superintendent Jan-Olov Hultin, who was forced to retire after some misjudgements in the previous case, finds his services desired again. He gathers his forces and manages to put some pressure on the drug baron Rajko Nedic.
With To the Top of the Mountain Arne Dahl’s writing reaches a new level. A series of critical contemporary crimes and issues are slowly linked together in an intriguing web of chance and fate, heaven and hell, with the overwhelming power of a classical tragedy paired with the ruthlessness of the harshest contemporary realism. It is the story of the hard return to life after a wrecked childhood, the story of the hybris of the powerful, and the story of love and true emotions against all odds.
The simple everyday violence in a shabby restaurant exposes an entire root system of crime and violence that is probably the root system of all crimes, even the simplest ones.
To the Top of the Mountain is a masterpiece in the noble art of letting a complex story slowly but with brutal consequence unfold itself and explode in a series of climactic fireworks of sheerest action. It is a crime novel that will not go to rest in the consciousness of the reader after the reading – it will keep on living there for quite some time.