Roseanna by Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo

sjowall 1Miriam and Douglas recently attended the Edinburgh International Book Festival and listened to Ian Rankin interview Maj Sjowall.  They had a chance to speak to her as she signed their copies of Roseanna, the first book in the series of ten that she wrote with her husband Per Wahloo . Maj was a very engaging and entertaining speaker in a dry, world weary, Scandinavian kind of way.  She complained about contemporary Swedish politics and the worsening of the distribution of wealth and privatisation of schooling etc just as she said she had done when her husband  Per and her got involved in Swedish politics in the sixties.

Roseanna is the first series of ten books following the career of Martin Beck the typical disfunctional, drinking and smoking lone male detective. Maj described the series as one meta-crime unfolding over the time span of the ten stories with social and political events as the necessary backdrop.

If you are a fan of contemporary models of crime fiction, with their complex psychological subtexts and weaving plot lines, the style of this first book is very straightforward and deserves the easy reading literalism it encourages.  It is a much easier read than, say, Stieg Larsson’s Dragon tattoo series or Denise Mina’s Garnethill  trilogy  with their their brooding and bloody cruelty and widespread corrupting political backdrop. A similar comparison could be drawn between  very different shows The Killing and Arne Dahl on television perhaps.sjowall 3

The story opens with an undoubtedly female, unidentified, naked body which gathers a crowd on the side of a canal.  By a process of slow, painstaking detective work the body is identified.  This process takes months and months and as it was written some time ago events such as waiting for a package to be delivered from overseas seem to take an extraordinarily long time.  The story appears before our eyes in a manner similar to the time frame of The Killing and builds to a satisfying crescendo.

It may not be the kind of novel that requires a second read but it certainly plants a seed in the reader’s mind to get hold of the other 9 books in the series and enjoy reading them as well.


  1. I have just finished reading it. It was well written and it flowed really well. Fast and furious it was not although at one point nearing the end of the book, the tension mounted and it got quite exciting. (It reminded me of the tension in the third dragon tattoo book, when Blomkwist is getting chased around the town.) An interesting take on a detective story, when everything is not neatly tied up in a few weeks and police procedure takes on a timeline of its own (especially as it was written and depicts the pre-digital age. I can imagine the storyline translating very easily to a film.

  2. Thanks for your comment Sheila. According to Wikipedia:
    All of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s books have been adapted as films at least once (Roseanna twice), in different parts of the world. Since 1997, a popular movie series has been co-produced by German and Swedish companies. Many of these films have gone directly to TV.

    The Laughing Policeman, a 1973 American film by Stuart Rosenberg, set in San Francisco instead of Stockholm.
    Mannen på taket (The Man on the Roof), a 1976 Swedish film based on The Abominable Man.
    De gesloten kamer (The Locked Room), a 1993 Belgian-Dutch film by Jacob Bijl, with the setting moved to Antwerp.
    Martin Beck, a 1993 Swedish TV serial with Gösta Ekman as Martin Beck.
    Martin Beck, a series of 1997 Swedish TV films with Peter Haber as Martin Beck.

  3. […] Sjowall/Wahloo Roseana which was published in 1965. (you can find a short review of that book here: […]

  4. […] have only done a few book reviews on our blog, it has been mainly tv shows, film, event reviews and opinion pieces but now that I am […]

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