Saturday, November 20, 2010

MURDER AT THE SAVOY: MAJ SJOWALL AND PER WAHLOO



Viktor Palmgren, a powerful businessman is dining at the Elite Hotel Savoy in Malmo with the managers of his varied companies. At the end of the meal as he begins to make a speech a man walks up to him, and shoots him in the head, sticks the weapon in his pocket, swings himself through an open window and steps down onto the pavement and then disappears.
The main suspect is not arrested at Stockholm's Arlanda airport because the task of arresting him was given to that comedically lazy and incompetent pair of Keystone Kops, Karl Kristiansson and Kurt Kvant.
Martin Beck is therefore sent from Stockholm to Malmo, to join Per Mansson in conducting an investigation. The dinner guests are all interviewed, and as their lives are exposed we learn something about Swedish society.
Palmgren's business practices and his involvement with dubious overseas organizations could mean a variety of people wanted him dead. The ludicrously incompetent Swedish secret service send an agent to Malmo, and he does not have a clue how to proceed.

This police procedural has a fairly simple plot, and is fairly short, but is a classic example of Sjowall/Wahloo's superb technique.

Their message is crystal clear. Capitalism is evil because it benefits the rich and powerful while leaving ordinary people with nothing.

'Gentlemen, the world of business is tough today. With the credit market in its present state there is no room for philanthropy or sentimentalism.'

Was this really written forty years ago?
But I think the main strength of the books is the author's ability to create in a few lines characters that are so memorable. The reader is given almost the character's entire back story in one brief paragraph. Here are two examples, firstly Gunvald Larsson;

'This is my eldest brother,' said the blonde. 'Unfortunately. Gunvald's his name. He's a .........policeman. Before that he was just a thug. The last time I saw him was more than ten years ago, and even before that the times were few and far between.'

Then the young Benny Skacke:

He imagined himself coming up with the solution, tracking down and catching the murderer single -handed. He would be promoted, and after that the only direction would be up. He was close to becoming Chief of Police when a new ring on the phone interrupted his vision of the future.

Murder at the Savoy has been superbly translated by Joan Tate, and remains forty years after it was written a wonderful example of the police procedural.
The combination of social commentary and great characters is typical of this great ten book series, and makes reading each one such a supreme pleasure.

You can read two more reviews from Maxine at Eurocrime and Jose Ignacio at The Game's Afoot.

6 Comments:

Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Norman - Thanks for this fine review! I agree with you that Sjowall and Wahloo's novels are deftly written with spot-on "brushstrokes." The words are very well chosen so that it doesn't take a lot of verbiage to tell the story.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Bernadette in Australia said...

It is amazing how the same broad social/economic themes keep reappearing over time isn't it? we humans are a stubborn lot, refusing to learn from our mistakes. As for the review, lovely as always. I only started reading this series this year and I plan to read it in order at the rate of 1 or 2 a year over the next few years. Nice to know I have such treats to look forward to.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Bernadette. I admit I was tempted to read the last Martin Beck for me, and then start reading them all again. At my age I am not sure I could restrict myself to only two a year.
I agree I always thought that politicians and generals never learned from history, now we can add economists to that list.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Thanks for the review.

I have read three books by Sjowall and Wahloo, and will eventually read all of them.

However, like Camilleri's, I will space them out like good desserts, and enjoy them one at a time.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Superb review Norman.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Jose Ignacio.

3:24 PM  

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