Posts Tagged ‘The Locked Room’

And there was someone waiting for him.

28 March 2011

Rhea Nielsen first appears in The Locked Room, the eighth novel in the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Image from Wickipedia

I recently finished up re-reading the ten Martin Beck novels… which I highly recommend.

These detective stories are funny, poignant, political, and have the some of the best pacing anywhere. Read them. Start with Roseanna and read the series in order. This is the third brief blog article (earier articles: Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Great Martin Beck Series and The tired heroes) where I’ve explored them, and today I’ll focus on solutions, and especially on the character Rhea Nielsen.

(Note that there’s a lot of great great stuff in the series that I haven’t touched on – these blog articles just barely scratch the surface.)

The fictional Martin Beck is the lead detective on a team of Stokholm police detectives. Beck is featured in a ten novel series, collectively known as The Story of Crime, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, dating from the mid-1960s to the mid1970s. These novels are the forerunners for later popular Swedish detective fiction, including work by Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.

Sjöwall and Wahlöö were a wife and husband team; both journalists with literary aspirations. She, a poet. He, a novelist. Clearly she’s a novelist too! Note that I tracked down his novels without her (translated ones available in English at the L.A. Public Library), and they’re not half as good as the Beck series – sort of Kafka-esque political fantasies – good, but not great. A librarian told me that Sjöwall and Wahlöö plotted the Beck series together, then split up chapters and each of them wrote separately, alternately generating draft chapters, often while on vacation with their kids.

The books are critical of Swedish society. The authors are fairly negative about a lof of things: urban redevelopment, governmental bureaucracy, pollution, noise, traffic, health care (in the form of Beck’s mother’s bleak old folks’ home), and more. Some accounts, for example the Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö Wikipedia’s article,  mention how Sjöwall and Wahlöö were socialists and how the books are indeed a socialist critique.

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The tired heroes

20 March 2011

The Martin Beck Series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, image from Fleur Fisher blog

I’ve had some sort of cold or flu for a couple days and it’s raining cats and dogs all day, so it’s a perfect setting for reading my way though the Martin Beck series of Swedish police procedural novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.

(Beck more often than not has a cold; the weather more often than not is dismal.)

I already wrote about these just over a week ago here – with a longish excerpt from the third book The Man on the Balcony.

Even though I am going to rave about some of the later books momentarily, I really recommend starting with the first, Roseanna, and working one’s way through the full ten books in order. The characters lives develop over the arc of the series. Martin Beck goes from not getting along with his wife, to separating, to divorce. They each read well as a stand-alone detective novel… but there’s a great progression when they’re read together.

When I initially read the series I started with two that I’d found at local used bookstore: The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, then The Abominable Man. The book that really hooked me was The Abominable Man, seventh in the series. I re-read it today.

I think it’s actually the shortest internal-duration book in the series; ie: the whole story takes place in the course of less than two days. In the other books, it often takes the police weeks and months to track things down.

“But many years of experience had taught him [Beck] that most of his work was in fact pointless, and that even the things provided results in the long run almost always looked pointless to begin with.”

The pace of The Abombinable Man is great. It whipsaws from a tense action-standoff (that I don’t want to give too much away on – but it’s great!), to a domestic scene (which informs the standoff – makes the standoff make sense), and back to standoff. This weaving and pace is so skillful that it rivets the reader, building anticipation… a page-turner! (more…)