CIS: My classics by Arne Dahl

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When Swedish literary author Jan Arnald writes crime fiction, he uses the name Arne Dahl. His books about Stockholm’s Intercrime Squad – such as The Blinded Man, Bad Blood and To the Top of the Mountain – are being translated into English and gaining plenty of acclaim for their intense plot lines and interesting characters. The stories usually have an international dimension, and have been turned into a TV series in Sweden bearing the author’s name. These gripping programmes were shown on BBC4 with subtitles last year and a second series is currently being filmed.

We invited Arne Dahl to join us during Classics in September to share his top classic crime novels with us. “Not an easy choice,” he says. “One could always argue whether or not a book from the late 80s really is a classic, but I think it is. I have listed them chronologically, without ranking…”


And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)
The very sight of this title probably makes you, the reader, cry: “Gosh, what a conventional choice”. And of course I agree with you, no crime reader in his or her right mind needs this tip. Still, it has left indelible traces in my mind – ever since I first encountered this miracle at the age of perhaps 11 – and I tend to return to it every couple of years or so. Every time it convinces me of the necessity of brilliant plotting; without it, crime fiction always falls flat on its back. But it is also a fact that the last 20 pages, right before the solution, still send heavy shivers down my spine.
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The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (1972)
It is difficult to choose between the 10 titles by my most important Swedish ancestors, but I tend to believe that this eighth book was the peak of their creativity. There is an impeccable balance here between, on the one hand, their traditional hallmarks – the police procedural turned into a tool for social analysis, the weird sense of humour, great characters, wonderful language – and, on the other hand, superb plotting. At this point in their career, they were self-confident enough to try the crime writer’s ultimate challenge, the locked room, and they do it brilliantly. As a bonus, Martin Beck meets the love of his life.
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The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (1978)
If Christie’s And Then There Were None is the essence of the great British tradition, this is the essence of the American. It was a surprisingly late discovery in my reading life, and I instantly realised that this was where all the so often misused threads from Chandler and Hammett came together. I suddenly sincerely understood the world of the private eye. Yes, it is so hardboiled, so masculine, so misanthropic, so stuffed with perfect one-liners that you almost suffocate – and yet there is another strand in it, a tenderness behind the layers of masks that is truly touching. Neither the strangely named hero CW Sughrue nor James Crumley himself can hide their deeply felt humanism.
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré (1974)
You have to be really patient when reading John Le Carré, that’s for sure. In some books the slow-motion tempo really does get tedious, but in his best works he remains the master of nuance. In my mind, this is his magnum opus, the best spy thriller ever written. Never has George Smiley’s character been allowed to develop this far, never has his seemingly harmless nature been more deadly. And no protagonist has ever been smarter. The quest for the Soviet mole within the ‘Circus’ not only exposes the absurdities of the spy community, but also uncovers the even greater absurdity of an age when we were ready to blow up the earth to save the country.
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The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy (1988)
Even if it is hard to choose between the four, I think the second of the LA Quartet novels is the one that crawls deepest under your defenceless skin. When I started reading Ellroy, I wasn’t prepared for the raw power of his writing. I was immediately stuck, and when I realised that behind the very acute here-and-now – the all-absorbing presence – a magnificent plotter was also hiding, he quickly became one of my all time favourites. As we move into the most innocent of ages – the 50s – in the most glorious of places – Los Angeles – we realise that all the innocence and all the glory is long gone. If you still have any illusions left after reading James Ellroy, they are probably worth keeping.
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