Bad Blood by Arne Dahl

bad bloodBad Blood by Arne Dahl, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Pantheon Books, 2013, first published as Ont blod, 1998
Intercrime book 2

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Bad Blood does not have a single main character, instead it focuses on the members of the A-Unit, whose mission is to deal with “violent crimes of an international character,” and in this particular investigation, they pursue an American serial killer who comes to Sweden. He is named the Kentucky Killer, and he’s eluded the FBI for over 20 years. It is the A-Unit’s first case in the year since the case at the center of Misterioso.

While the action is brisk in the opening set pieces, the first half of the book is slow as Dahl catches up with all of the characters of the A-Unit. While you could start here in the series, it would make more sense to start at the beginning with Misterioso if only to catch up on the characters and the formation of the A-Unit. Interestingly, Dahl wrote this book before Misterioso even though it’s the second one, chronologically. The pace of the first half is also slow because the investigation is time-consuming.

My favorite scenes in the book were the group meetings: it’s a bit of a Socratic dialogue between Hultin and his team, and it’s interesting dialogue, even if the theories they spin out seem a bit far-fetched. I’m not enamored of serial killers and their psychology, so the plot was not my favorite. Even with the cross-cultural twist of an American serial killer in Sweden, I’m not in love with serial killer plots.

Finally, a couple things that bothered me as an American reader: (1) Kentucky Killer is a pretty lame name for a serial killer, but maybe the name was fresher when this book was originally written, and (2) the New York section of the book was a bit odd (Hjelm and Holm accompany their FBI counterpart on a drug raid in Harlem, with lots of sociological/political commentary).

I really enjoyed Misterioso but was a bit disappointed by Bad Blood. Though I’ve sworn off serial killer novels at several times in my life, it’s not the serial killer aspect of the story that disappointed me. I think I was expecting something as crisp and new as Misterioso, and small things about Bad Blood turned me off, starting with the very graphic opening section.

See FictionFan and Red Panda Reads for other reviews.

12 thoughts on “Bad Blood by Arne Dahl

  1. Rebecca – Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written review. Like you, I”m not a big fan of very graphic violence unless it’s absolutely necessary to the plot. And usually it’s not. I’m interested too in the impressions you got as an American reader of this one. Maybe I’ll wait a while for this one…

    • Margot– I was surprised I didn’t like this one because I very much liked Misterioso, which also had a serial killer plot. My reading life would be so boring if I could predict what I’d like!

  2. I started reading this a week ago and probably haven’t gotten to the part where you refer to the very graphic opening section. Can you elaborate without spoiling it? Where I stopped was at the airport where they were trying to find the culprit. Is it past this part? I admit to only being in chapter two at the moment. And I’ve been reading this off/on for better part of a week and probably can’t remember much of what I’ve read.

    I’ve heard this book was slow at the start but that it picks up towards the end. I heard the pacing isn’t the best with this book but I am willing to give it a go. I agree with you that while I have sworn off on serial killers too, there’s something about Arne Dahl that makes you want to read his works even though they feature nothing but. His first book was awesome so I guess the follow-up isn’t going to top that one. I’m not surprised you’re disappointed and I probably will be too.

  3. It’s the airport section, Keishon, and I won’t say any more than that.

    I think overall I’m dissatisfied with the book because I had very high expectations after Misterioso, and there’s a spoiler-y thing about the killer’s story that put me off. Sorry to be so vague.

  4. Thanks for the link, Rebecca! Oddly enough, I enjoyed this one more than the first. I thought the character development was much better in this one and was delighted that we didn’t spend so much time on Paul’s existential angst. It still seems very strange to me how he could have written this one first – there are so many references to The Blinded Man (Misterioso) in it.

    • You’re welcome! The writing order seemed strange to me too: I wonder what the whole story is. I didn’t mind Paul’s angst as much as you in book 1, but what stood out for me in book 2 was the killer’s background. I think it’s an overused device/ explanation (or at least it seems to crop up a lot in books I’ve read).

  5. I have not yet read Mysterioso so don’t know what I think of this author, but will be reading that one as soon as I can fit it in.

    I found your comment on swearing off serial killer books at various times interesting. I swore off serial killer books (at least for a while) when I read the first book by Giles Blunt. But then I went through my unread books … just the ones I could get to easily … and found a lot with serial killers so I faced the fact that I am at least going to have to try a few more.

    • Serial killers seem to be unavoidable, and it’s not that I dislike EVERY serial killer novel out there: I just need to clarify what it is about them that bothers me. I hope I stumble upon the answer sometime soon!

  6. I’m going to read Misterioso, don’t know if I”ll read this one.
    I also dislike serial killer books. I prefer a logical, scientific, evidence-based investigation that discovers a killer in the midst, where it makes sense when he/she is revealed. A serial killer could be completely off away from the main plot and cast of characters and could have run to another country. Also, often the reader isn’t given clues or they wouldn’t matter if a serial killer is involved. We often don’t have the information to co-solve this with the detective if it’s a serial killer.
    I wonder what Sherlock Holmes would have thought of the serial killer scenario or Hercule Poirot or any number of other detectives.

    • Kathy– You don’t love all the FBI profiling of serial killers in tons of crime novels?! I prefer the type of investigation you describe as well, and I think it’s because I’ve read way too many serial killer novels in the last twenty years. Your last comment sounds like a tv/film treatment: I wonder if we’ll see it soon.

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