Solid detective work, integrity, and determination, along with mismanagement and sabotage, play key roles in the Swedish true-crime drama The Hunt for a Killer.
“This story is based on actual homicide investigations in Skåne, Sweden from 1989 to 2004. Dialogue and events have been constructed to reflect the police work, reasoning and emotions surrounding the cases. They are not exact recreations, but inspired by interviews and case files. Some names have been changed.”
So opens The Hunt for a Killer (Jakten på en mördare) — with the above text superimposed on the visuals of 10-year-old Helén Nilsson leaving her family home in the small town of Hörby in Malmöhus County, Sweden, around dinner time on Easter 1989, to meet two friends. After her family’s frantic search for her later that same evening, followed by searches conducted by the National Guard, orienteers, mounted police, and the military, as well as ordinary citizens, Helén’s body is found, by people not actively looking for it, six days after she went missing.
Despite never having worked on a murder case before, Arne Svensson (Christian Fex, Wallander), the head of the criminal division for the Kristianstad Police District, is made the senior investigating officer on Helén’s case by Krister Berg (Rasmus Troedsson, The Restaurant), the police chief for both the Kristianstad and Malmö Police Districts. According to senior detective Per-Åke “Pelle” Åkesson (Anders Beckman, Midsommar), Berg “messed up” with this — and he will be proved correct.
A few months later, the naked body of a young woman is found on a road in the woodlands of Vedema, dead from injuries similar to those inflicted on Helén. Could this be the work of the same killer? Four years later, an elderly woman is found murdered in her home — a case Berg gives to Pelle, who just made the front page of the local newspaper for having “done it again” in solving another murder. In relatively short order, Pelle and investigators Monica Olhed (Lotten Roos, The Bridge) and Erik Johansson (Håkan Bengtsson, Wallander) locate, interrogate, and arrest the old woman’s killer. It’s 1993 now, and Helén’s killer is still on the loose. Although Arne has made no progress on the investigation in the four years since the girl’s murder, Berg utterly refuses to turn the case over to Pelle.
As the six-episode series progresses, we follow Pelle, Monica, and Erik as they investigate and solve homicide cases in various parts of Skåne and Malmöhus Counties during the rest of the 1990s into the early 2000s. During this time, Pelle, a cop focused on solving crimes that on “goal-driven management,” “value words,” and being a “culture bearer,” hasn’t stopped thinking about Helén Nilsson’s murder. But he becomes the subject of an internal investigation and is removed from his position for dereliction of his administrative duties.
Now relegated to a closet in the basement of the police station for his office, Pelle takes the opportunity to do a deep dive into the Helén Nilsson case, closed since 1999, and discovers the extent to which Arne and Berg had mismanaged the investigation. So he sets about to make it right for Helén and her family, and enlists the help of Erik, Monica, and crime scene investigator Tonny Andersson (Lars Schilken). The team plug away at it and eventually get a critical break in their investigation, which ultimately leads to the arrest and imprisonment of Helén’s killer — 15 years after she was murdered.
Compelling from start to finish, the binge-worthy The Hunt for a Killer is a well-crafted drama about real detectives and the real crimes they investigated and solved. It isn’t fancy or flashy or fast-paced; rather, it is more like an homage to dedicated cops who set out to solve crimes, not for the glory but because that is what there is to do.
As I’ve mentioned in other articles, I prefer not seeing violence on screen, so I appreciate that the murders in The Hunt for a Killer happen off screen. There is, though, a scene involving adults and teen girls that, while not violent, is disturbing.
A couple of characters are downright maddening, most notably Krister Berg. If he represents the real-life police chief who oversaw the Helén Nilsson case, I wonder if he was ever charged with perverting the course of justice, because, in my mind, a formal reprimand just wouldn’t cut it for the crap he pulled.
Anyhoo, the net net is, The Hunt for a Killer is a terrific show, and I recommend it.
The cast includes Anders Aldgård (Wallander), Kristina Brändén Whitaker (The Bridge), Alexander Öhrstrand (The Bridge), Nicholas Olsson (Real Humans), Magnus Schmitz (The Bridge), and Emilie Strandberg (30 Degrees in February).
The Hunt for a Killer, which premiered in its entirety in the US and Canada yesterday (August 12), is now streaming exclusively on Sundance Now and its apps and digital channels, including Sundance Now on Amazon Channels and the AMC+ streaming bundle. (The first episode is currently available for free on Prime Video.)
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