The second available in translation from what is now a ten book series in the original Swedish, BAD BLOOD sees Sweden’s team of elite police investigators (Team A) on the trail of a vicious killer. The first victim is a Swedish literary critic whose hellishly tortured body is discovered at an American airport and it becomes apparent that after carrying out the murder the killer hopped on a plane to Sweden. Despite the advance warning they receive, police miss catching him on arrival, in the first of what becomes a long list of increasingly implausible plot devices, thereby leaving him free to go on a killing spree in Sweden. They soon learn they are on the lookout for a particularly nasty American serial murderer known as the Kentucky Killer, thought to have been dormant since his 18-body killing spree a couple of decades earlier.
BAD BLOOD was originally published in 1998 and I tried hard to remember that perhaps crazed serial killers weren’t quite as overdone then as I feel they are now. Though I’m not convinced I’d ever have bought into the premise of this particular story with its torture-crazy, cross-continent, multi-generational killer(s). Even though there is ultimately some kind of rationalisation here I still found the level of clichés and preposterous plot devices just too high for me.
There is some social commentary in the form of the now ubiquitous nods to the changes in Swedish social makeup and behaviour but more dominant themes included the unwanted the incursion of American culture into Swedish society and the book’s eponymous subject. I had been keeping a count of how many times variations of the phrase “bad blood wins out in the end” were repeated but I lost my post-it note with the tally. I’m pretty sure we’d made it to double figures and the book wasn’t yet finished. My take away messages were that America is bad and you can’t fight genetics.
I’m afraid the characters didn’t do much for me either. The first victim is so thoroughly unlikable that it was hard to care who’d killed him or why, even his own family didn’t give a toss so readers can hardly be blamed for not caring about him. Dahl uses a team of investigators to propel the investigative component of the story rather than focusing on one or two leads and while I know some writers can make this work I don’t really feel that Dahl has done so here. To me they are basically a collection of fairly indistinguishable angst-ridden, middle-aged men. Plus a token female.
So for me BAD BLOOD was the write-by-numbers thriller of the kind that people who don’t read crime fiction think makes up the entire genre. An unspeakably evil person does unspeakably horrid things while basically good people try to stop him but they fail for a while because otherwise there wouldn’t be a story. There’s not really much of substance and the only genuinely original angle was the particularly gruesome torture method used by Dahl’s killer which didn’t really add anything to my enjoyment level. It’s basically a ‘meh’ on my personal scale.
The adaptation appears as the second, movie-length episode of a Swedish television series made in 2011 of the first five books of Dahl’s series. It follows the plot of the novel reasonably closely (at least until the end) though plays around with other elements of the source material. Most notably this includes the use of Irene Lindh playing the role of Jenny Hultin, a hands-on, female boss for Team A and evening out the gender balance a little. The rest of the core team members are the same as in the book (though there are fewer team members in total) and the casting is very good across the board.
The movie is a little more subtle than the source material in the way it tackles the theme of bad blood, though fathers and sons do keep cropping up, but is probably a little more overt in its anti-American stance though this could well be a reflection of the fact it was made more than a decade after the book was written. The timing possibly had something to do with the adjustment to the overt ‘blokeyness’ of the source material too. I’m sure the altered ending played well to its Swedish audience but it worked better for me too as it felt a little more realistic.
Though not won over by Dahl’s first novel (Misterioso) I was happy enough to give the second one a go but I think that’s where I will stop reading the books. However, having watched the first two episodes now I can see myself watching the remaining three episodes of the TV series so I guess that means the adaptation is the winner on this occasion. In the case of BAD BLOOD the writers have done a decent job paring down the somewhat lengthy source story to get to its essence and the dialogue-heavy script is a good medium to show off the best attribute of the original material which is the slightly humorous team dynamic. The good casting only adds to this. The story still as annoying aspects – such as the scant attention paid to the victims of crime – but for me it did work better in the visual medium.
If you’ve read the book do you think I’m being too harsh, perhaps due to having read a few too many similar tomes and having reached my lifetime quote for this type of novel? Or is Dahl benefiting somewhat unjustifiably from the fact that Scandinavian crime is the in thing right now and just about any old thing will do as long as it’s vaguely Nordic? If you’ve seen the film do you like it any better than the source material?
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