The Curious Case of Arne Dahl’s Chinese Whispers

A recent, very interesting symposium on European Crime fiction in Manchester has led me to the works of Swedish writer Arne Dahl. My colleague Kerstin Bergman (Lund University) gave a great paper on his latest novel Viskleken (Chinese Whispers), which appears to be the first in a new breed of ‘Eurocrime’ fiction. Its investigators are members of a Europol unit drawn from a number of European countries, and are tasked with solving a set of interlocking international crimes.

Here’s some publicity blurb from the Salomonsson Agency website to give you a flavour:

A new and top-secret Operative Unit of Europol has just been established. Its members call it the Op Cop group and Police Superintendent Paul Hjelm from Sweden is at the helm. Based in The Hague with connections and national units spread all over Europe, its mandate is to fight international crime. But although information about the Op Cop group is strictly confidential, there has been a leak. The body of a dead woman is found in a London park arranged in a bizarre position, and inside the body a message addressed to “The Operative Unit, Europol” is discovered. At the same time, a furniture manufacturer in Stockholm is doing business with the infamous Calabrian mafia; an American investment bank is moving unfathomable sums of money; the workers in a Chinese furniture factory are growing ill; and during a G20 summit in London, a dying man whispers a strange phrase in Arto Söderstedt’s ear. Somehow, it’s all connected. The Op Cop group heads out into a world where the Internet, social media, and the fluidity of national borders has globalized crime. The human greed, corruption and craving for power is the same. It has just found a larger arena’.

The Salomonsson site also tells us that Chinese Whispers is the first in an Op Cop / Europol quartet, that it received the ‘Best Swedish Crime Novel’ award in 2011, and was shortlisted for the ‘Best Crime Novel of the Year’ award by the Danish Academy of Crime Writers in 2012.

If like me you’re now desperate to read the novel, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that it’s out in Swedish, Danish, German and Dutch, so if you speak any of those four languages you can tuck right in. The bad news is that it’s not yet available in English, and may not be for a long, long time.

The lack of an English-language translation is something that I find very curious, given Dahl’s huge commercial and critical success in Scandinavia and Germany. The author himself has given publishers every encouragement, providing extensive information about his works in English, such as the 10 novels of his debut ‘Intercrime’ series. The first of these was published in 1999, but only recently appeared as Misterioso in the US (see reviews at Petrona and Reactions to Reading), and will be published in the UK this summer as The Blinded Man. The second in the series, Bad Blood, will follow in summer 2013.

All credit to Harvill Secker crime editor Alison Hennessey for picking up the series, but does this mean that we’ll need to wait a decade before we see Chinese Whispers out in English translation? The Europol/Op Cop series follows on from the Intercrime novels, and features some of the same investigators, such as Paul Hjelm. If we plod through all the Intercrime novels in order, year by year, we’re in for a very long wait…

Perhaps another option would be to go ahead and publish Chinese Whispers straight away. I’d be very open to the latter course of action (hint hint), given the novel’s groundbreaking depiction of a European crime-fighting team grappling with globalised crime. Europol, incidentally, is a very real organisation, and its website makes for fascinating reading in its own right.

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20 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Arne Dahl’s Chinese Whispers

  1. Fascinating news, thank you! The new series sounds rather like the Intercrime series, from what you write about Paul Hjelm etc, expanded to cover Europe & not just Sweden. I did enjoy Misterioso (now crazily retitled The Blinded Man, which misses the point of the treble clue in the original title) and look forward to reading more by him.
    Yes, it is very odd that he has not been translated in the UK more promptly as I am sure he’d be popular with (predominantly male?) readers of Le Carre/spy thriller style books as well as with the more mainstream crime fiction audience (as well as, of course, the translated crime fiction small but influential community of readers!). Roslund-Hellstrom (3 Seconds and Cell 8) have been pushed recently – they are not dissimilar in some ways, but I don’t think as good (apart from the older Box 21, translated a good few years ago, which is more of a conventional police procedural than the later two, more thriller/international-themed, books) .
    Why a book like She’s Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel gets translated rather than something classy like Arne Dahl’s books (an opinion based on #1) amazes me, but sadly someone must have thought the idea of a woman being kept and evilly treated in a basement was more appealing, very very sad and depressing.

    • Thanks, Maxine. Yes, I think you’re right that the Europol series progresses naturally from the Intercrime series, which had Swedish investigators, but was pulled into investigating international crime (see for example Europa Blues, the 4th in the series). So Dahl has had his eye on the European / international dimension for a while, it seems – in fact he may have planned the widening scope of the two series from the start (will need to go and read up on interviews he’s done to find out). And I agree that there should be a huge market, because there is a connection too, as you say, from those big Cold War thrillers of the 60s and 70s.

      Don’t think I’ll be reading the Koppel given your description – although Mercy, by Jussi Adler-Olsen, did manage to depict a similar scenario in a nuanced and sensitive way. I suspect not many writers have the ability to do so, however.

    • That would be awesome if they would translate more of his books. I loved Misterioso. I’d buy any of his books and Chinese Whispers sounds really really good and I am frustrated it won’t be translated anytime soon. Very informative post. Thank you. Hope you will keep track of this and inform us when it will be available in English one day. I’m in the US so who knows if we will ever see any of his books here again.

      • Thanks, Keishon. Perhaps if lots of us pipe up, the publishers might take the hint! I’ll certainly try to keep track and will pass on any news. I wonder why not more of the Intercrime series were published in the US? All very odd.

  2. Summer 2013? Damn. I read “Misterioso” when it was published in English last summer, and it was such a great book I was hoping we’d get at least one new title in the “Intercrime” series in English every year. At this rate I could be dead by the time they publish number ten…

  3. I too get really annoyed that we sometimes have to wait years for many books written in their original languages to be translated into English. Why this should be so I don’t know, considering the amount of countries that have English as their mother tongue, and the amount of money they would make if they were in English. Chinese Whispers sounds a fascinating book which I would really like to read, but I suppose we will just have to wait for it to be translated, not that I am holding my breath that it will be any time soon!

  4. Dear Mrs P and everyone else. I would like to take this opportunity to explain the difference between the two series by Arne Dahl. They are both about international criminality, but the first series (consisting of ten books, with a small “appendix” called Eleven) is based in Stockholm, Sweden, the second one (as of yet, consisting of two books) in Europe, at Europol in The Hague, Holland. That is the superficial difference. However, there are other, and more important, differences as well. If the first one still falls under the dubious concept of “Swedish Crime Fiction”, the second one I would call “European Crime Fiction”. Not only are there investigators from most parts of Europe, the crimes themselves are European, they exceed all traditional national boundaries (like all big, organized crimes of today) – or even global. It is about the acute and most threatening crimes of today’s world, I would dare to say. It’s more high tech, more travel oriented, more world aware – but the basis remains the same. Perhaps it could be summarized in the simple question: What the hell is happening to humanity and empathy in our contemporary society? And there is a lot of England in Chinese Whispers…
    Best, Arne Dahl

    • Many thanks indeed for taking the time to leave a comment on the blog, Arne, and for explaining the differences between the two series.

      I think Chinese Whispers is doing something rather special with its specifically European focus (both in terms of its exploration of contemporary European/globalised crimininality and in the composition of its Europol team). You’re perhaps bringing to fruition what authors like Henning Mankell started back in the early 1990s in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintigration of communism (I’m thinking here of The Dogs of Riga, in which Wallander works together with a Latvian police investigator, and a number of comments on the changing nature of criminal activity in the ‘new Europe’ are made). I’m part of the way through Chinese Whispers (one of the lucky ones who can read the German version), and am enjoying it very much so far. I look forward to reviewing it at some point soon.

      In the meantime, we’ll carry on agitating for an English-language translation 🙂

      With very best wishes, Mrs. P.

  5. The lesson to me here is that I had better read Misterioso. I was taking a break from Nordics to read Camilleri, Penney (The Invisible Ones) and Australian mysteries. I was going to bring in Marklund’s Last Will when the library made it available, but I had best put Misterioso on hold. It sounds too good to miss. I’ll await the reviews on Chinese Whispers at trusted blogs, as this one and others.

    • Thanks, Kathy. I too need to catch up. I’m considering reading a couple of the Intercrime to get a feel for the series and then reviewing Chinese Whispers from the German translation, which is already out.

      I’ve just started a huge novel though – Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, so will have to work my way through that patiently first!

      By the way, I like being one of Kathy’s Trusted Blogs – thank you!

  6. Oh bummer, another one without English translation. Crime fiction is still too difficult for me to read in Swedish. So I’ll keep hoping they release the English version soon.
    Interesting though, so many Scandinavian authors have their works translated into English quite some time after they surge to popularity. Moreover, some of books are released ‘in the wrong order’, which is even worse. I mean, why would you publish a series in the wrong order is beyond me. Maybe the publishers are big fans of George Lucas 😉

    Some other mystery relating to ‘delayed releases’ is for example, the film ‘In a Better World’, by Susanne Bier, original Danish title ‘Hævnen’. The film was released in Scandinavia in 2010 and it won the Academy Awards in March 2011 so, surely they must have shown it with some English subtitles. It was even shown at the Rome Film Festival the same year in September, I think. But the film never reached theatres in the UK and the DVD (English subtitles edition) was only released a couple of months ago. I was a bit surprised, since it’s not an obscure, independent, film about some very ‘niche’ topic we are talking about.

    Ah, the mysteries of marketing…

    • Thanks, Sara. I know that the whole business of releasing books out of sequence drives a lot of readers potty. I’m guessing that publishers look for a strong novel to introduce a foreign author to the home market, and often that means publishing perhaps the third of a series that’s firmly hit its stride. Then, once the author is proven commercially viable, the earlier ones are translated too. But what’s lost in the case of a really great series, of course, is the overarching story of the main protagonist – such as Wallander – which can be very frustrating.

      I’m going to the Theakstons/Harrogate Crime Writing Festival towards the end of the month. There will be lots of publishers and agents there and I’ll be sure to delve into this question a little further.

  7. Pingback: Arne Dahl’s The Blinded Man airs this Saturday (6 April) on BBC4 | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

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