Can you relate to a series of books being like an old friend? You are comfortable with them. You know what to expect even though they may throw the odd curveball at you. You enjoy their rhythm, their language, the little details they explain to you, the way they make you laugh and the fact that you know they will be around for a long time to come. They are reliable. That is how I have come to feel about Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series.
I am constantly struck by the timeless quality of the novels. Although written a long time ago you would hardly know it. Only the rare detail here and there gives the the date away. In this one it was the description of an orange and blue flared outfit. The plots are not far fetched and have a very human quality to them. The relationships between the characters are perfectly described and although there are not a huge amount of female characters in the ones I have read so far, the reader gets a good enough look into the deep recesses of Beck’s mind and how his relationships work that I don’t find myself missing the emotional level that a female character sometimes brings to a crime novel. The reader is not overwhelmed with superfluous detail. There is space in the books to breathe.
I have started to notice a pattern in the way naked women are described in the novels. I am not sure if it was Sjowall or Wahloo that wrote these descriptions and if anyone is in the great lady’s company I would be grateful if you’d ask. I do however remember Maj telling a story at the Edinburgh Book Festival about the dead body in the first book being inspired by a woman who had caught Per’s eye in real life. I am also not sure if the descriptions, which I would say go into a little more detail than other books I have read, are an expression of that straightforward Scandinavian attitude towards bodies or if they are more of an expression of the liberal 60’s attitude which may have existed when they were written. I tend towards the former explanation.
This story tells of a suspicious explosion and fire in a building which may or may not be complicated by a suicide. Was it arson or an accident? Compared to previous books in the series this one describes the tensions of police team working in more detail and we learn more about Beck’s colleagues than in previous books. It has been made into a film (1993 with Rolf Lassgard and Gosta Ekman) and it has been dramatised on BBC Radio 4.
Sometimes you just want a book that is pure and simple enjoyment for a few days. I am not yet half way through this series of ten books and would really recommend making friends with them to anyone exploring this genre.
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