Four weeks in Stockholm at Christmas. Sounds like an advertisement you might read towards the back of a local newspaper, beneath the headline - it's a winter wonderland! In reality, the Stockholm of MODUS is anything but.
Fresh from the sun-kissed beaches of Deep Water's Bondi, BBC Four now shifts its attention for the next four weeks to the picture postcard Stockholm archipelago and the adaptation of Anne Holt's novel. It's Christmas Eve, the snow continues to fall - and the city continues to function; county councils take note - and at one of the city's finest hotels, a wedding party is in full flow.
A toast is made in flawless English, glasses are raised, and the children are sent back to the family rooms to fall asleep to films whilst downstairs the adults party. Carnage, even those not veterans of the genre can begin to anticipate, is not far behind.
Death comes in the form of the London-based Austrian actor Marek Oravec, a killer who rises from a frozen lake into the frigid air with angel wings tattooed on his back like a distorted, twenty-first century Colin Firth. Oravec carries to the role of Richard Forester with an element of terminator in his performance, an homage of steely-eyed determination and precise, almost mechanical, posture as he stalks the corridors of a high-end hotel. There's no killing from a distance here, either; Forester kills up close, with his bare hands or a blade, the perfect killing machine.
Enter Inger Johanne Vik, deliverer of a toast in flawless English, a criminal psychologist most recently of the FBI, and back in her native Sweden with her two daughters. After tucking her daughters in, Vik returns to her sister's wedding party. In a cruel twist of fate, it's her eldest daughter whose path crosses with Forester as the latter disposes of his first victim, Sweden's equivalent of Nigella Lawson.
This puts the autistic Stina in Forrester's crosshairs, and draws Vik, The Bridge's Melinda Kinnaman (sister of Suicide Squad and The Killing remake's Joel), into the investigation of Forrester's action. She is paired with detective Ingvar Nymann, with whom she shares an immediate attraction.
Modus follows in the same vein as its Scandi-noir predecessors, introducing multiple arcs in the opener that will then slowly unravel (and most likely, merge) as its progresses towards the finale. Expect also the inevitable familiar faces to appear in some capacity; Wallander's Krister Henriksson, for example, serves as a second story arc as the widower of a murdered Uppsala archbishop.
The story isn't flawless. Vik's prior employer is one such issue, and seems to quickly becoming a cliché of contemporary mystery literature; at this point, half of Scandinavia's fictional crime solves appear to have trained or served at the FBI's Quantico base. It's the little things, the things that niggle at you, that aren't quite right.
Make no mistake: there's nothing ground-breaking in the plot, at least not from viewing the opening two episodes. While it will easily fill a Saturday night in December, when it's cold and dark outside, Modus isn't quite compelling enough. It's not The Bridge in other words, nor The Killing.
Instead, Modus is something that is engrossing enough, and with just about enough mystery, to carry you through until the Christmas edition of the Radio Times is released and the rest of the month becomes a blur of repeats, Christmas specials and new and returning prestige series. A second series of Modus has been commissioned, to air in Sweden in 2017.
- Aired on BBC4, November 26 2016 at 21:00.