May 12, 2011
By: Maj Sjöwall
After purchasing the complete set of Martin Beck mysteries on audio for the library, I found my curiosity piqued by the lasting charm of the series by Maj Sjöwall and her husband Per Wahlöö. During the period of 1965 to 1975, the couple wrote one 30-chapter mystery every year. The whole series is designed to be read as one epic story. It is also intended to be served as a mirror of Swedish society, which, despite its endeavor for advocating social democracy, suffers from the same problems of inequality and crime as in other Western countries.
However, the consistently entertaining tales, serious mystery solving, and above all, the life of First Detective Inspector Martin Beck of National Homicide Bureau, have won many loyal readers for over half a century. They set the tone for later Swedish writers like Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, i.e., allowing us non-Swedes to critique its culture while having a great time.
In this sense, Roseanna (1965) is especially worth reading. It is the first of ten Martin Beck series. The plot is very simple: while working in Lake Vättern, a dredger unearthed the body of an unknown murdered young woman. Lacking the identity of both victim and killer, Inspector Beck and his team had very little to go on with the murder case. Three months later, however, with international cooperation, Beck traced the victim’s identity to Lincoln, Nebraska. Six months and nineteen days later, he managed to trap a murderer whose strong sense of propriety was offended by the victim’s free-spirit and casual attitude toward sex. Two distinctive features of the series have revealed themselves: Beck’s police procedure with a few local and international twists, and reliance on a collective crime solving method by Beck and his ensemble.
The whole ten Beck’s mysteries are:
1. Roseanna (Roseanna, 1965)
2. The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966)
3. The Man on the Balcony (Mannen på balkongen, 1967)
4. The Laughing Policeman (Den skrattande polisen, 1968) (Edgar Award, Best Novel, (1971)
5. The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Brandbilen som försvann, 1969)
6. Murder at the Savoy (Polis, polis, potatismos!, 1970)
7. The Abominable Man (Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971)
8. The Locked Room (Det slutna rummet, 1972)
9. Cop Killer (Polismördaren, 1974)
10. The Terrorists (Terroristerna, 1975)