REVIEW The Hunt For A Killer (S1 E1&2/6)

As fans of Nordic Noir as a wider genre, and Swedish crime drama more specifically, we’ve been well served by Skåne region in the very south of the country. The Bridge and Malmö, Wallander and Ystad… they’ve all showcased the region, which has gone hand in hand with some of our favourite crime shows.

Now we return to Skåne with BBC Four’s latest instalment of the genre, The Hunt For A Killer (Jakten på en mördare).

It’s another adaptation of a true crime, but unlike the onslaught of British iterations I’m thinking that 99.9 per cent of people in the UK don’t know the outcome of the case involved. This fact is crucial to the success of a true crime adaptation.

What we got instead with The Hunt For A Killer was surprising – it didn’t follow the same trajectory as other members of this sub-genre, or indeed the crime drama genre is a whole.

So surprising and unconventional in structure was The Hunt For A Killer, it took a while to get used to things; to let things soak in. When they did, you really began to appreciate it. Savour it, almost.

First of all, we went back to 1989, and to the town of Hörby. Ten-year-old Helén Nilsson went missing and her body wass found six days later.

As you can imagine, Helén’s disappearance had a profound affect on the town. The search and investigation was handled with sombre reverence. There was hardly any music, dialogue was to the point, direct even. There was no flab in the storytelling, just slow-moving drama with an extreme emphasis on the procedural.

At the station, it was chaos. Star experienced local detective Per-Åke Åkesson (Anders Beckman) was disappointed when he was overlooked for the case, and it seemed that the man in charge – an inexperienced detective called Arne – did not heed his friendly advice. Soon, the station was overrun with anyone and everyone from the local community with a tip-off.

And you kind of think this is the way it was going to go – slow, doughty, natural-feeling linear procedural work.

But soon we jumped forward by a year or two, where another body was found, this time a sex worker in her 20s. With the unsolved Helén Nilsson still at the forefront of their minds, Per-Åke – now in charge – tried to link the two.

But then we got another murder and another jump forward in time – this time an elderly woman in her 90s – and then two more twentysomething women.

And it was then I began to scratch my head. Any other crime drama – based on a real story or not – would follow the Nilsson story and wring it dry for every last drop of drama. It would have cliffhangers, twists… the full works. Not The Hunt For A Killer. It moved so subtely and without fuss you were left to wonder – well, I certainly did – which case linked to what (if at all) and whether they were solved or not. At one point I honestly thought this was actually a murder-of-the-week show, with the unsolved Nilsson case as a sort of underlying arc.

Except I then remembered multiple murders had already taken place and I wasn’t even at the end of episode two yet.

By the end of that second episode, more time was taken and things settled down as a prime suspect was identified for the most recent murder. He was interviewed by Per-Åke’s colleague Monica Olhed (Lotten Roos) a calm, reasoned prosecutor who quietly and methodically interviewed the creepy Bengt Karlsson about his psychological make-up. Her approach was to get suspects onside and then gently coax information out of them. No table thumping, shouting or bad cop routines here – just calm, conversational and treating the suspect like a fellow human being.

To do this she had to show remarkable restraint and coolness under pressure.

As these interviews gently evolved and developed I found myself scratching my head less and finding myself more and more intrigued. The Hunt For A Killer had the same effect as Mindhunter, possessing the same kind of reasoned fascination with the psyche of psychopaths. In fact, the interview scenes and the case investigations themselves had the same kind of intimate feel to them.

By the end of episode two, I found myself really intrigued and wanting more. There were subtle editing techniques used throughout to help move the story along, and what was most intriguing of all was the hierarchy in the station itself. Per-Åke was not your usual alpha-male detective lead, and often faded into the background. He smoked a lot (they all smoked a lot), and he wouldn’t look out of place shopping in B&Q on a Sunday morning. In fact The Hunt For A Killer pretty much forgoed all your usual narrative devices or tropes we’ve seen so many times before.

It was sombre, subtle, interesting and often slow-moving. And completely unsensational and… normal.

The only concession to your run-of-the-mill crime drama was the handling of the killer himself. We saw him make several phone calls to Per-Åke, explaining in a deep, throaty voice that he was ashamed of himself, very lonely and didn’t know what came over him when he perpetrated the crimes.

Aside from that, The Hunt For A Killer was indeed a surprising, interesting watch and had the courage to go against the grain and give the real-life victims and their families some respect. Mark me down for more, even if I’m not entirely sure how they’re going to fill the next four episodes.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. John Dutton says:

    I agree totally with your review. Initially, found it hard to work out but thanks to Baptiste have had some recent practice getting to terms with various timelines!
    Monica’s interviewing technique outscores Vera any day. Looking forward to next week. This could turn into an fascinating example of how to make a real-life police procedural appealing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Charlotte Carling says:

      The skipping ahead chronologically a seemingly random number of years is just following the most interesting and potentionally linked cases as they came up during those frustrating 15 years while the Helén murder remained unsolved.
      I think it’s less confusing for Swedish viewers. This was a huge case here and most people will know the name of the killer (or will at least remember it when it’s mentioned early on). We also know what else is linked to Helén’s murder and what are completely separate cases. It will inevitably be a slightly different viewing experience for non-Swedes.
      I really, really enjoyed what they did with this series and am glad they didn’t add in a lot of the usual stuff that comes with fictional drama. One gets the impression that it’s a very authentic look at some of the murder investigations that happened at the time and the challenges they faced in the wake of some bad decisions and annoying office politics with New Public Management added into it.

      Liked by 1 person

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