Detective Chief Inspector Martin Beck, head of the National Homicide Squad, is recovering from a near fatal bullet wound and his first case on returning to work involves the investigation of a suspected suicide found in a locked room. The victim has apparently managed to shoot himself without there being a gun in the room. The conduct of the case prior to Martin Beck's return has been abysmal.
Meanwhile Kollberg, Ronn and Gunvald Larsson are working on the special bank robbery squad under the command of District Attorney "Bulldozer" Olsson. The incompetence of this accident prone squad assumes Keystone Cops proportions, but Olsson remains supremely confident of his own very limited abilities.
We also follow the antics of the gang of bank robbers, led by Werner Roos, who are the prime target of Bulldozer and his merry men. The irony is that two of the gang, Malmstrom and Mohren were under lock and key in the supposedly escape proof prison at Kumla, but failed to return after they were granted weekend parole.
"Well we can't really keep people locked up in one room with a TV set for all eternity, can we?"Roos, Malmstrom and Mohren are planning one huge robbery before they retire to enjoy their ill gotten gains.
The humour in the book is at times savage, and the social comment could easily have been made today about much of Europe. Sometimes you have shake yourself and remember that the book was written in 1972, when most people still thought Sweden was a socialist paradise.
"From this ultramodern colossus in the heart of Stockholm the police would extend their tentacles in every direction and hold the dispirited citizens of Sweden in an iron grip. At least some of them. After all, they couldn't all emigrate or commit suicide."
"Instead he intended to get into the dairy business.Smuggling Danish butter into Italy was amazingly profitable. Moreover it was virtually legal; its only real risk lay in the possibility of being liquidated by the Mafia...."
The book reeks of Scandinavia with its dark humour, and cast of self centered characters, who seem to speak in almost clipped half strangled voices.
Above all the sharp contrast between Martin Beck's lonely meticulous detection, and the blundering Bulldozer Olsson with all his massive resources make this book a very enjoyable and interesting read.