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the moment of truth

24 february 2013

When a detective in K. Arne Blom's 1974 Krimi The Moment of Truth worries about robbers possibly holding up the bank where his girlfriend works, "he calmed himself with the thought that such things didn't happen in Lund" (100). The eternal refrain of the Swedish crime novel: it doesn't happen here. No matter that said detective is in the process of tracking down a serial killer who has smashed several women's heads in with a baseball bat.

The Moment of Truth bears the strong impress of the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. It's set in Lund instead of Stockholm, but Blom's novel features a similar set of philosophical, bluffly witty detectives who are perplexed by increasing social disorder. Blom has more of a sense of the inherent nobility of police work than Sjöwall and Wahlöö. But he has less sense of character. Martin Beck and his squad are fiercely individual types; Blom's Lund team are rather interchangeable.

They're happier at home, too. One thing that makes the detectives in The Moment of Truth hard to distinguish is that they're generally of an age, and of a contentedness in their marriages. One, Månsson (the boyfriend of the aforementioned bank clerk), is a bit younger, and more idealistic, and thus has something of a character note. But Blom is as sanguine about relationships as Sjöwall and Wahlöö are cynical.

In fact, the inciting event of the serial killings in the story is the disruption of a happy marriage. It's an interesting moment in the plot, a loose end left flapping so long that you almost forget about it, till it leads the police straight to the killer. No puzzles here – though there is some skillful misdirection. The Moment of Truth is a Krimi where we see the unnamed murderer in scenes that alternate with those of detection. But as so often with such texts, things are not quite what they seem to be.

Swedish crime fiction has come to overwhelm European, and indeed world, mystery readership, in the years since The Moment of Truth. Blom has continued to write copiously – his bibliography, which can be puzzled through on Swedish and Norwegian Wikipedia pages, is as long as both your arms. He is currently president of the International Crime Writer's Association. But he was also ahead of the curve; only a couple of his books have been translated into English, and the lack of German, French, or even Danish Wikipedia pages on him would indicate that his appeal has remained regional. I'd like to see more of his work, however – perhaps there will be a Blom revival.

Blom, K. Arne. The Moment of Truth. [Sanningens Ögonblick, 1974.] Translated by Erik J. Friis. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

German title: Die Stunde der Wahrheit
Italian title: Il momento della verità