Thriller author Arne Dahl: “For me, writing is freedom!”

Arne Dahl is Sweden’s hottest thriller export: his books are bestsellers, and the films that go with them are ratings highlights. reveals the Swede’s secrets of success, the reason why he is now letting the “Berger & Blom” series die – and what is really behind Sweden’s Pippi Longstocking romance. Mr. Dahl, the “Berger & Blom” series is your most successful thriller series to date. Why are you ending it now?

Arne Dahl: I have a system. So far I’ve written three large series: The “A-Group” around Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm was the most extensive to date; the more global Opcop series came after that, and then the much more personal, interpersonal level Berger & Blom books. Each of these series had a natural lifespan from the start. Sam Berger and Molly Blom had five books. Five books of pure suspense in psychological thrillers.

“Zero equals one” is the title of the book. Why is?


Arne Dahl will be 60 on January 1, 2023 and does not yet see himself in the writer’s pension.

(Photo: Throne Ullberg)

In short: Mankind’s hunt for eternal life (laughs). Live longer and what it ultimately costs, how far you are willing to go for it. The book doesn’t start with Sam and Molly, but with Deer, Desiré Rosenkvist, the third main protagonist of the series. She suffered greatly in the fourth book, losing her legs and is now trying to find a way back to her old life. Back to the normality of a policewoman. Her boss puts obstacles in her way. Deer manages to establish a connection between several dead bodies that have been dumped on the beaches of various archipelago islands off Stockholm. However, Deer is not allowed to investigate and thus calls the two private investigators Berger and Blom into the scene, who then find out that everything is different than many initially believed.

On one side is Sweden Pippi Longstocking, Bullerbü and Inga Lindstrom. On the other hand, Sweden is also Arne Dahl, psychological thrillers and human abysses. What distinguishes your books? what do you stand for

Good literature should always question the obvious, go under the surface, look behind the facades. The Swedish facade is light, it is sun, it is summer in the archipelago or a beautiful postcard winter. I stand more for the darkness, the gloomy, what is hidden behind the light, what is emerging behind the facade.

“Zero equal one” takes place in the spring, towards midsummer. More light this time with Arne Dahl?

(laughs) It may seem so. No. But the resulting contrast was important to me. Dark plot, light-flooded season. The classic romantic image of Sweden. I use this image: The sun melts the ice of winter and the truth, the reality, emerges. This creates a special atmosphere.

Where do you get your inspiration from? Where do the ideas for your thrillers come from?

Quite simply: from the world. I look at what is happening around me. On a small and large scale. As an author you think: Now I’ve seen all the crimes that exist in this world. Now I have explored all criminal abysses. But that’s not how it is. There are always new things, new crimes, new abysses. It never gets boring.

Do the ideas have to mature for a long time?

Usually not. There is a framework, a basic idea. Of course, it can then develop in all directions – and sometimes mature accordingly. First there is the idea, the reality and then comes the fiction.

How long do you work on a thriller on average?

Usually it’s always around a year when I’m in a row. However, when I start a new series, it takes a bit longer. I then have to understand for myself what I want to write about, what the framework should look like.

That means: After “Berger & Blom” isn’t it over yet? Arne Dahl doesn’t retire as a writer at 60?

(laughs) No! But it may take a while now. I have to recharge my batteries first. Recharge energy. And I also have certain standards: I love plots and stories. But I also know that good main characters are the real icing on the cake. The main protagonists have to work together. You must be interesting. That’s the most important! Even the best story fades without strong main characters. That’s why I’m always looking for friends, for sympathizers, but with rough edges. Readers want to identify themselves, want to find a friend in the story, so to speak. And Deer is such a popular person. The reader can trust her. That’s not always the case with Sam Berger and Molly Blom.

That makes Deer the perfect lead actress for the new series! Are you planning a spin off?

(laughs) That’s a great idea! No, it will be a whole new series. I don’t know yet how many books it will contain. But it could well be my last row. But I never say never! Nothing is final: the characters in my books can always emerge. So who knows…

Speaking of which, who knows: why are crime novels and thrillers from the far north, be they from Denmark (Jussi Adler Olsen), Sweden (Arne Dahl, Hakan Nesser, Henning Mankell) or Finland (Max Streeck, Arttu Tuominen), so popular in this country ?

I’ve asked myself about that often. What connects us, the Scandinavians and Finland? I think it’s that romantic, transfigured mood. The mentalities, full of longing. In addition, the politically gloomy coloring of the crime novels and thrillers. Moral border issues. All of this together is perhaps the success factor for Nordic thrillers in Germany.

How did you get into writing in the first place?

As a child I read a lot, but no children’s books. I always took works from my father’s bookshelf. It wasn’t very big, but it was very well stocked with detective stories and thrillers, for example by Agatha Christie or Frederick Forsyth. And at some point I had the feeling: It would be great to write something myself. It started when I was 12 or 13, of course no books yet. But that’s how it all started. For me, writing is freedom!

Why the pseudonym Mr. Jan Lennart Arnald?

That is a long story. But in short: As I said, I wrote a lot and published my debut at the age of 26. I wanted too much after that, had too big ambitions. I put myself under too much pressure. writer’s block. Then I discovered Henning Mankell and thought to myself: start over with new names. Maybe then the fun of writing will come back? And he came back.

If it gets too much for Sam Berger, he withdraws inwardly, looking for his “still point of the turning world”. Do you also have such a point or haven of peace?

Yes, by the way, everyone should have one. With Berger, it’s his twins. For me it’s my two daughters.

Thomas Badtke spoke to Arne Dahl