Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I have always compared in my mind any police procedural crime novel with those of the Swedish married couple, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

They wrote ten novels featuring detective Martin Beck between 1965 and 1975. They were the gold standard as far as I was concerned.

In fact I had only read six of the books, and they sit on the shelf in my study [a grand name for a large cupboard] in a position of honour. I purchased two of the series in second hand bookshops, and remember my joy at finding the nearly thirty year old paperbacks for a few pence.

Next to them sat a new unread copy of The Locked Room [1972], purchased last year, which I was going to wait to read till 2007, when the other 3 books I don't have are to be republished.

Glenn Harper at International Noir had posted an interesting article about Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander and Martin Beck mentioning that he had read all ten Sjowall and Wahloo books straight through, and obviously admired them greatly.

I realised that I had not read any of my Martin Becks for a very long time, certainly over 15 years.

Perhaps I was scared to read the unread book in case it did not meet that gold standard that I had in my memory.

After all since then I had read Mankell, Indridason, Fossum, Camilleri, Leon, Vargas, Connelly, Mosley, Crais, Pelecanos, Rendell, PD James and many more.

How would a 34 year old book such as The Locked Room, and Martin Beck compare with the more modern books and detectives?
Well Glen's article prompted me to begin reading The Locked Room, and I am now 50 pages in.
My memory was not faulty, it is gold standard fare. In fact it is hard to believe that the book is 34 years old, but it is immediately apparent how other writers were influenced by the style.
The combination of pure detection, and savage social commentary, delivered with such wit and humour is just crime writing at its best.


Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Reading about the collapse of the socialist paradise that was Sweden in The Locked Room [1972]reminded me of a train journey from Stockholm to Upsalla in 1990. On the train we met up with a drunken Lapp, who called himself a "Swedish Apache".
The Lapps being a discriminated minority in Sweden according to him. He did say that Sweden was still avery nice country to live in even for an Apache.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

Asa Larsson's third novel, The Black Path, looks at Lapps if my memory serves. So does a book by an author with the surname Vida, called "Let the Northern Lights forget your name" (or maybe, "remember" your name). And, finally, I believe that Swedish author who is more literary than crime, Kirsten Ekman, focused on the Lapps in several of her books.

Great post about Sjowall/Wahloo. Now that I have finished all 10, I can say with confidence that it is the best series I have ever read. Thank you for introducing me to these wonderful authors.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

You are very welcome, Maxine.
It is time for me to read my number nine, which is in fact number six, and I will count it as a female crime writer as I am sure Maj Sjowall was a very equal partner in crime.

1:41 PM  

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