Classic Crime

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Maj Sjowall was born in 1935 in Stockholm, Sweden. Sjowall studied journalism and graphics before making her mark whilst working for several newspapers and magazines. She met her future husband, Per Wahloo (1926 – 1975) in 1961 and the two were quickly married and in a few years had two young sons.

Per Wahloo was born in Lund, Sweden and had graduated from the University of Lund. Wahloo also worked as a journalist, his main cause investigating criminal and social issues. During the 50’s, Wahloo was deported from Franco’s Spain due to his radical political views and activities. Back in Sweden he wrote several TV and radio plays before becoming a full time writer with the Martin Beck series.

It was one night when their two sons had been put to bed, that Sjowall and Wahloo decided to write what they saw as a crime series for their time. Every night they put their children to bed, the couple would continue the chapters of Martin Beck’s life as a policeman. They wanted to write ten books featuring not just a main protagonist, but make the whole precinct a permanent character for their novels. So was born the frustrated, determined Martin Beck and his team of investigators. The novels are not just about the investigation of a crime; they scrape the surface of Sweden’s mask of righteousness and show the dark underbelly of those times.

The series was an instant success and soon the novels were translated into many languages. In 1970, Sjowall and Wahloo won the coveted Edgar award for Best Crime Novel in America in 1970 for their fourth novel in the series, The Laughing Policeman.

As they promised, only ten Martin Beck novels were written. The last, The Terrorists was published only a few weeks before Per Wahloo succumbed to cancer in 1975.

Maj Sjowall, is alive and still works as a translator.

Review: Roseanna

Roseanna is the first in the Martin Beck Series and the first paperback to be newly reprinted by HarperCollins. Over the next eighteen months all ten of the Martin Beck novels will be published with these very attractive covers.

Roseanna starts with the discovery of a young woman who is caught in a dredging machine from the waters of the Gota Canal. The body is discovered on the 8th of July. The date is very important. This is a novel about time and the slow processes that the police had to undertake in order to slowly conclude an investigation.

Unlike today’s technologically sophisticated police investigations - with computers, e-mail and faxes - there was virtually no technology available in 1965. The only means of communication they had in those days were the telephone and telegrams. Like McBain, these stories include all involved in the National Homicide Bureau.

The story is meticulously told and the reader can feel the stretching of time and the growing frustrations of all the policemen. To catch their man couuld be a long and arduous, sometimes tortuous, process. All told, the investigation lasts six months and you can often sense their pain and agony at coming against yet another brick wall after days of mindless research.

Many writers today leave out all the ‘unnecessary’ procedures, believing they will bore the readers. This Swedish couple truly relish explaining all the minutiae that the police have to fight their way through to get a result. And, strangely enough, it actually ends up as an entertaining, gripping read. The suspense is taught and the characters populating the novel all have their own individual role to play.

In the age when European, especially Swedish, writing is becoming increasingly popular translated into the English speaking language, it is a highly opportune time to refresh and reprint this great series of novels that started it all over forty years ago. Roseanna is a wonderful introduction to a great series for new readers and another chance for older readers to relish the strange world of Martin Beck and co.

Roseanna includes an introduction by Henning Mankell, while the second in the series, The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, is also available with an introduction by Val McDermid.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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