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Hidden Numbers is the eighth novel in the Intercrime series.
From the international scene of Requiem Arne Dahl in Hidden Numbers travels deep into the Swedish primeval forests – and at the same time deep into the most hidden parts of the contemporary human consciousness. Around midsummer, a Stockholm school class is on a journey to the northern parts of Sweden called Ångermanland. One of the pupils, a fourteen year old girl, suddenly disappears, and the circumstances are alarming enough to send three members of the Intercrime deep into the forest.
There has been a distinctive presence of Eastern European cars in the area, and there are a few too many sentenced child molesters living in the neighbourhood. Something is not right. When it soon turns out that the girl herself is not quite as innocent as Intercrime would have her, they slowly start to discover an entire web of sexual deviations, all based on the Internet. And perhaps even an entire web of countermeasures, trying to fill the spaces where the police and the judicial system are completely powerless, the spaces of hidden numbers that the human civilisation can’t seem to reach. Intercrime is confronted with a strange battle between self-appointed good and bad that reaches almost medieval proportions.
Arne Dahl’s search through the darkest and most secret corners of the human mind leads him directly to the web, the Internet. There are things going on there, constantly and basically for everyone to see, that has no place in a civilised society. In Hidden Numbers he travels deep inside the human mind looking for the very heart of contemporary darkness – with Joseph Conrad as his implicit guide through the unknown continent of unleashed sexuality. What does the sudden daily presence of pornography do to our lives? What does it mean to our inner lives that our computers’ inboxes are constantly filled with offerings of penis enlargement and breast operations?
And – first and foremost – what does it mean to our children? What becomes of the children of the pornographic era? How damaged do they get?
Or how free and uninhibited?
The disappearing girl in the forests of Ångermanland is immediately considered a victim – either of some vicious international organisation dealing with trafficking or of some child molester lurking in the primeval forest. But as the investigation goes on this preconceived notion has to be revised. Is the fourteen year old Emily really a victim? Or does she have plans of her own?
Around the same Intercrime discovers a secret serial killing in Stockholm. A corpse on the top of a mountain on Södermalm is the way into a strange world of hidden killings. Arto Söderstedt and Viggo Norlander are slowly unlocking a completely unknown (and unreported) series of murders of middle aged men – but what is the common link? And is there really a link to the disappearance of the girl in Ångermanland?
The search of two computers and all that these computers have been exposed to in the virtual world become the key to two different networks with sexual focus – and these networks appear to confront each other. And all of a sudden Intercrime is in the middle of a battle of primeval proportions. They literally end up in between two strong, secret forces with two completely different attitudes to the virtual world they inhabit. And the crash is a strong one.
Once again Arne Dahl has used acute contemporary issues to produce a thriller that resembles no other thriller. This is a thriller of the hidden corners of the ever expanding virtual cyberworld that is slowly starting to replace the real world – still the battles and the sufferings are very much real. And even more painful than before.
Hidden Numbers is a tragedy of manners – but it shouldn’t be an Arne Dahl if it wasn’t at the same time a tightly packed action novel. Even face to face with the utmost cruelty Intercrime retains their great sense of humour and the witty attitudes to a changing world. Because change doesn’t have to be bad, the virtualisation of the future doesn’t have to be a sign of decay and depravation. But the areas unreachable to the traditional justice are constantly growing, ordinary moral standards don’t really apply anymore. The police and the judicial system has to be up to date in order to meet the new threats, and Intercrime is trying their best to be a part of the future.
Hidden Numbers is the promise of a bright future for Arne Dahl, constantly capable of changing his writing in the direction promising to be the future, never tempted by aesthetic conservatism and nostalgic world views. And never satisfied with the fixed form of the conventional thriller.