I hadn’t expected to return to the topic of Crimes of Passion, the latest Swedish mystery series to take up residence on BBC4 on Saturday nights, after finding the first of the six feature-length episodes not really to my liking. That was thanks to the rather overcooked Agatha Christie pastiche feel to it, with its heavy-handed 1950s styling and a confusion of red herrings and furtive looks where an actual plot should be. The next three instalments did little to persuade me that I should reconsider my initial feelings and I’d resigned myself to the series ending in much the same fashion.
And then rather out of nowhere came this week’s story entitled “Dangerous Dreams”, which is an altogether very different sort of offering from the jolly lawks amateur detective stories we’ve had until now. Instead, this story seems to take its lead from dark 19th century Gothic stories, with heroine Puck (Tuva Novotny) taking up a position as secretary to famous author Andreas Hallman (Claes Ljungmark) in his isolated country home during the winter, only to find that the atmosphere inside the house is even more chilly than it is outside in the snowy grounds.
When Hallman’s favourite son Jon (Joel Spira) dies, it appears that the young man’s long-existing serious heart condition has simply proved terminal as predicted – that is, if only his last word uttered to Puck hadn’t been “Murder.” With only Hallman’s wife and other children together with Jon’s widow in the house with Puck at the time, the potential suspect pool is a very small one; but soon after a particularly nightmarish scene sees Puck nearly smothered to death as she sleeps. The house quickly assumes a foreboding and threatening aspect to it with Puck unable to call for help or get out of the grounds through the locked gates. Gone are the Christie trappings of the earlier episodes, and instead we have something closer to a haunted house chiller, the tension mounting as Puck inches closer to the truth, which puts her own life increasingly at real risk in a way that never happened to Poirot or Miss Marple.
With the cut-off, snowbound setting it almost feels like a companion piece to the mystery in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The episode is enhanced by the relative lack of period stylings: while present, the overall effect is fairly timeless and the story could be set anytime in the last 100 years. No one is ostentatiously chain smoking, and for once there is a lean and coherent plot with all those red herrings actually working in concert towards a single definite resolution rather than running around all over the place exasperating us with their efforts to bamboozle.
The fact that I enjoyed – really enjoyed, actually – this penultimate outing for Puck, her husband Eje (Linus Wahlgren) and their detective friend Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace) doesn’t really change my mind about the previous four stories. The only thing that gives me pause is the thought that perhaps I like this one so much only because this is the first of the Crimes of Passion stories to be grey, cold and disturbing – is it that this is the only stereotyped, predictable way I like my Nordic Noir, and the reason why I didn’t like the more jolly, sun-dappled earlier entries?
I hope I’m slightly more open-minded than that, but at the same time it’s probably fair to say that such stories are playing to Swedish TV’s strengths, and when it’s on form like this is really is awfully good and well worth watching after all. Just a bit of a shame we didn’t get something this strong much earlier in the run, really.
The final story in the Crimes of Passion mini-series based on the novels of Maria Lang is on BBC4 on Saturday October 4 at 9pm. All six stories will be released on DVD on October 6, 2014.