Sunday, October 26, 2008


I finished reading The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo several days ago. Now I am prepared to be criticized for the fault of constant repetition but this book was top quality crime fiction and the series is a must read for crime fiction fans. I know I am a bit of a bore on this subject but they really are very good.
Don't just take my opinion look at the knowledgeable Maxine of Petrona's review here.

Ernst Sigurd Karlsson kills himself with a shot through the mouth in his tidy bedroom. Alongside the phone in the living room is a pad with two words written on it. Martin Beck.

Meanwhile Gunvald Larsson is observing a Stockholm apartment house, while a young policeman gets some coffee to warm him. The  house explodes and Larsson heroically rescues most of the people inside.

Why was the house being watched? Was the explosion arson or an accident? 

The investigation is an ensemble operation, breaking several of S.S. Van Dine's rules for writing detective stories [listed by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise], with the conflicting idiosyncratic personalities of the detectives playing a major part in the story. Systematic police work, stinging social commentary and a lot of humour makes this book a great read. 
Martin Beck takes an ancillary role in this story apart from the details of his almost always depressing home life which leads him to lie to his wife and spend the holiday  weekend with Kollberg and his wife.
The slightly concussed Gunvald Larsson conducts his own off beat investigation while supposedly off sick. But Martin Beck and the rest of the team, Lennart Kollberg  Einar Ronn, Fredrik Melander [when he is not in the toilet] , and 'future Chief of Police' Benny Skacke end up needing the cooperation of Inspector Mansson from Malmo who conveniently finds a very helpful witness in order to solve the interrelated crimes. 
A lot of the black humour in the book concerns the team members and their relationships with minor characters such as their boss Hammar, criminal-technologist Hjelm, and the 'Laurel and Hardy' of the Stockholm police Kvant and Kristiansson.

'Except a false alarm, which you failed to report, for Christ's sake. Out of sheer idleness or stupidity. Is that right?'
'Yes ,' mumbled Kristiansson.
'We were exhausted,' said Kvant, with a glimpse of hope.
'By what?'
'Lengthy and demanding duty.'
'Christ, kiss my arse,' said Gunvald Larsson. 'How many arrests had you made during your patrol?'
'None', said Kristiansson.

If you have not read this series yet you are in for a wonderful treat and I can do no more than quote the Birmingham [UK] Post;
'Sjowall /Wahloo are the best writers of police procedural in the world.' 


Blogger Kerrie said...

This really is a book I will have to find, Norm.
Thanks for the link too.
My suspicion is that many great authors often break these rules.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Here is the list of the Martin Beck series in the correct order.

The Man who went up in smoke
The Man on the Balcony
The Laughing Policeman
The Fire Engine that disappeared
Murder at the Savoy
The Abominable Man
The Locked Room
Cop Killer
The Terrorists

They are all out in the Harper Perennial series which has good size print and the excellent extras I mentioned in an earlier post.
I think some of the rules are ridiculously out of date but I like Chandler's rule that the detective should be a man of honour. I suppose that makes me ridiculously out of date!

4:09 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Norm, I'm delighted that you and Maxine have done much to kindle new interest in these marvellous books, all of which I've read at least twice. I read The Laughing Policeman in 1971, and it rather opened up the field of crime fiction for me. I remember it well because at the time, post-grad and a bit short of the ready, I was living in Harrow, whence in the a.m. to the old Public Record Office in Chancery Lane to research, whence in the p.m. to teach for four hours (bit less on Fridays) on the secular side of a yeshiva, whence home to write, Saturdays coaching A Levels, writing Sunday morning, and then, in hopes of maintaining a bit of sanity, escape into crime fiction. A lot of Ngaio Marsh got read, I recall, but then I discovered Sjowall/Wahloo and things were never quite the same. I also at that time found McBain's 87th Precinct novels, though I had no idea these were Wahloo's inspiration and that he had translated a few into Swedish. And then I ran into Ruth Rendell, and these together rather yanked me out of the Golden Age, though I still like to visit there quite often. Splendid that Harper Perennial is putting out new editions -- we need more of that, a lot of Golden Agers included.

2:26 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip, 1971 was about the time I too started reading the Ed McBain 87th Precinct books.
One of my colleagues was an 87th Precinct fan and I began to read them as well as Ruth Rendell, who was my favourite back then, and then I discovered Martin Beck/Sjowall/Wahloo. I must admit I was reading more history than crime fiction in those days as I was fed up with dentistry and wanted to go back to university to read History.
But circumstances meant that I remained a dentist for a trifling 35 years until I retired.
I will remember you still like the Golden Age when I decide on the prizes for the Winter Quiz.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

In reading your posts that touch upon the historical past, Norm, and one in particular, though I cannot recall which, it went through my mind that you would have made a fine historian. But then there would not be generations of patients grateful for your fine dental care.

The Winter Quiz is coming?? I must prepare, I must go into training. The mind is still quite limber, though it seems to me some of the furniture keeps going missing. As for the rest of me, nothing wrong there that can't be put right with a full body transplant.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Philip.

I have been refining my quiz questions so that they are a good test without being too difficult if you follow the clues.
I will make final adjustments it and post it probably the week beginning the 10 November.
If you find out where they do body transplants let me know. ;0) With new eyes and hands I could go back to dentistry and earn the bigger fees they get now.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spot-on post, Norm. I loved the character of Larsson in this book, hilarious!
Not sure about breaking the rules, I might have to call you on that ;-)
Terrifying news about the quiz. Or maybe I should call it a duel (between you and Philip)!

11:31 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine. Don't worry about the quiz the format will give more people a chance because I will have a cut off mark and anyone who scores above that will go into the draw for the prize.
Of course if someone gets all of the correct answers he or she will automatically win a bonus prize. The contest will be my efforts to ensure that no one gets them all right. ;0)
Philip is not the only very clever reader out there who I am concerned about. :0)

1:00 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Let me see now. Everyone who gets above a certain number correct goes into a draw. But there is a bonus prize for getting all the correct answers. Norman, have you been at the nitrous oxide again?! I got only FIVE right on your last, truly fiendish, Quirky Quiz -- and I won!! (The Marlowe/Kirk/Forester question, by the way, has been neither forgotten nor forgiven.) Okay, but that bonus prize had better be good. Ten days in the Seychelles with Sharon Small would be acceptable.

Some astute commenting on your part over at DBB this morning, Norm. Very. Well done you.

4:21 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I think the new questions will be a good test but slightly easier because you know the way my mind works by now ......
Philip gets a bonus point for mentioning Sharon Small but I was thinking about an extra book as the bonus prize. ;o)

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope the questions will be notable (that's my verification word) but not too culture-specific.


8:28 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Marco I will try.
best wishes

9:36 AM  

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