At the end of the month, the first two books in the Martin Beck police series written by Swedish husband and wife team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, will be published by Vintage. This series originally came out in the 1960s and early 1970s and influenced generations of subsequent crime writers, many of whom (Henning Mankell, Val McDermid, and Jo Nesbo to name a few) will be penning the introductions to these new editions. I finished the first book, Roseanna, far too late last night, but I was too mesmerized to close the pages. Roseanna is a librarian from Lincoln, Nebraska. Unfortunately, she is also the victim, killed as a tourist on a cruise ship and her body thrown into a canal. The police at first have no idea of the victim's identity and no clues. And there were over eighty passengers and crew on board, from several different countries who could be potential suspects. Where to start?
This series is notable for describing in rivetting detail the meticulous daily grind of the police and the toil it takes on their family lives and their psyches. In the pre-computer, pre-DNA testing era, these investigators have to rely on hunches and the mind-numbing (and sometimes body-numbing) sifting through paperwork, interviews with witnesses and the trailing of suspects. There are frequently periods of intense boredom and frustration - the case takes over six months to solve. But there are also liberal doses of humour; Beck's colleague Kollberg always has a saracastic and cynical running commentary going and in this particular case, Beck receives assistance (and some enigmatic telegrams) from an appropiately named Nebraska detective called Kafka. This is a good series to read in order (there are ten books in all) as it promises much character development, particularly of the obsessive Beck, who currently is unhappily married, not much of a father and feels sick everytime he eats.