Monday, September 20, 2010

Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Bonnie is a lifelong mystery reader whom I trust for judgments about which books I might enjoy. She told me that Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are considered the pioneers of the modern Swedish police procedural. Seeing that their Martin Beck novels have been reprinted (and liking Swedish writer Henning Mankell's Wallander series), I decided to try Sjöwall and Wahlöö's now legendary mysteries. The Edgar prize winner The Laughing Policeman was recommended by a column that I recently read (I forget where) but all the copies in our library system were checked out (others must have read the same column), so I decided to go back to the begining and got Roseanna (the original 1967 American edition).

As I age, I find I like fewer novels every year and often get only a few pages into those I try before stopping. Roseanna, however, sucked me right in. A body without any identification is found in a canal. Clues as to cause of death, scene of the crime, motive, and likely suspects are missing. Police don't really know where to start other than perform an autopsy. The detectives are initially on the spot because the press demand quick answers (Is there a killer on the loose?), but the media soon loses interest, and Martin Beck and his collegues are left to puzzle over the crime - if there was one.

The authors reveal the character of Detective Martin Beck rather slowly, more through his actions than through descriptive statements. He's not an easy man to judge. His dedication to work is unquestioned, as he neglects his family responcibilities to solve crimes and catch criminals. He knows Sweden well. As readers, we get to travel all around country as Beck interviews witnesses.

One of the characters turns out to be a librarian, but I do not want to spoil the mystery by saying too much. I will, however, thank the authors (Wahlöö is deceased) for not stereotyping the profession.

Sjöwall and Wahlöö wrote a total of ten Martin Beck mysteries. So I now have another list to add to my many books-to-read lists. What was that saying about too many books?

Sjöwall, Maj and Per Wahlöö. Roseanna. Pantheon Books, 1967. no ISBN. Reprint: Vintage Books, 2008. ISBN 9780307390462.

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