Archive for November 12, 2010


Posted: November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized


What do you read when you are really stressed out? When you want something to bring you back to a state of equilibrium, and not slip into dark depression.

I look at the books on my “read next” TBR shelf, and see I have a personal “Nazi Occupied Poland” reading challenge coming up very soon. That should help me realise that things could be a great deal worse!

But I decided that I would read another book from the Martin Beck series. I always feel a sense of nostalgia for those heady days, twenty years ago, when I searched through Devon’s many second hand bookshops for the missing books in my Sjowall/Wahloo collection.
Now we have the marvelous Harper Perennial editions with introductions and informative articles at the end of the books; and above all with font sizes that are readable by the elderly.

I like to save these books up, just as you store a vintage wine that is too good to drink, but now it was time to read another. My out of order reading of Sjowall and Wahloo’s ten book series, has now reached number nine for me, actually number six in the series, Murder at the Savoy [1970]. In the introduction Michael Carlson explains the Swedish title; Polis, polis, potatismos; but he also states Sjowall and Wahloo cited Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct police procedurals as an influence.
Is this correct? I am not sure they had read any Ed McBain, and in this interview Maj Sjowall only mentions the influence of Georges Simenon and Dashiell Hammett.

Is it just pure nostalgia, or are the Martin Beck books as good as I remember? I ask the same question each time I read one.
Well I have reached page 116 of Murder at the Savoy, and my answer is yes, they are wonderful reads. Despite the differences in police procedure, no computers, no DNA, no mobile phones, and an almost all male police force they have a knack of seeming very relevant to the present day. Above all they obey basic rules for good crime fiction; you must have a good plot, a cast of interesting characters, and mention food.

There was matjes herring on a bed of dill, sour cream and chives. A dish of carp roe with a wreath of diced onion, dill and lemon slices. Thin slices of smoked salmon spread out on fragile lettuce leaves. Sliced hard-boiled eggs. Smoked herring. Smoked flounder. Hungarian salami, Polish sausage. Finnish sausage and liver sausage from Skane. A large bowl of lettuce with lots of fresh shrimps.

But as well as the light humour there is a much heavier social commentary confirming that Sjowall and Wahloo believed the model social democratic society was falling apart even in 1970.

Behind its spectacular topographical facade and under its polished, semi-fashionable surface, Stockholm had become an asphalt jungle, where drug addiction and sexual perversion ran more rampant than ever……….

An impoverished proletariat was also being created, especially among the elderly. Inflation had given rise to one of the highest costs of living in the world, and the latest surveys showed that many pensioners had to live on dog and cat food in order to make ends meet.

The Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

Roseanna [1965] *
The Man who Went Up In Smoke [1966] *
The Man on the Balcony [1967] *
The Laughing Policeman [1968] *
Murder at the Savoy [1970] -reading now
The Abominable Man [1971]- to be read
Cop Killer [1974]*
The Terrorists [1975]*

* Read before I began blogging.
** Reviewed on Crime Scraps
This old blurb that appeared on the cover of Roseanna says it all:
‘Sjowall/Wahloo are the best writers of police procedural in the world.’ Birmingham Post