BEHIND THE LABEL OF NORDIC “NOIR”: ARNE DAHL’S EUROPA BLUES
Europa Blues was the fourth novel in Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series (in Swedish, it’s called A Gruppen (“The A Group”, or “A Team” if you want to be very cute) published in 2001, and in English translation in 2015, by which time the first series of TV dramas adapted from the first five of the novels (and titled, imaginatively, “Arne Dahl”, which makes sense because Dahl is a pseudonym) was airing on British TV. There would be a second series based on the next five books; there is also an eleventh Intercrime novel, imaginatively titled Elva (Eleven) as well. I actually had a great-aunt named Elva who was the eleventh of her parents’ children. The Dahl books and TV series were extremely popular, but confusing in England as they didn’t bother to publish the books in order, so you were either seeing or reading at random. So I’d seen Europa Blues five or six years ago, but I decided to go back and read the novel, just to remind myself that there were still half a dozen not translated into English.
Fortunately, it is not part of my critical purview to decide whether or not Arne Dahl is the “King of Nordic Noir”. Who knows? There may be all kinds of wars of succession taking place even now among the various writers in Scandinavian countries caught up in battles fought over the multiple marketing gimmicks and the conundra of critical short cuts that such labels entail.
Thought maybe I could name Dahl the New Nabob of Nordic Noir? The Archduke Of Arctic Actioners? The Wali of Wintry Whodunits? The Tsar of Swedish Shockers? The Maharaja of Midnight Sun Murder? You decide. It will be important for the reviewers to have a label, and perhaps no one will pay attention if I don’t give him one.
But I think I would rather explain that in one important way, at least in Swedish terms, Dahl is the heir to the Martin Beck/Wallander continuum of Swedish police procedurals, whether or not you wish to consider such things as noir or not. The noirishness of “Scandi” crime fiction seems to have grown from the focus of the English on so-called “depressive detectives”, which suited their view of Scandinavia. That view explained why Kenneth Branagh left designer hangover stubble on his cheeks as he played Wallander. In reality, however, the structural spine of Beck and Wallander novels, grew from…