Per Wahloo is not the first writer to record the stifling effect of government bureaucracy. But in the background of this police procedural he has fashioned a devastating critique of the modern state. This may not be the first anti-utopian novel, but it is among the best.
The time is the near future. The major problems that have plagued the democracies -- housing, unemployment, social inequality and so in -- have been solved, partly it seems by having been declared solved. Like Big Brother in "1984" (and some recent inhabitants of the White House), the rulers of this corporate paradise are deeply offended by the merest expression of dissent.
Chief Inspector Jensen must stop whoever is threatening to bomb the company that controls the nation's magazines and newspapers. According to someone Jensen consults at the Ministry of Communications, their publications "have proved their ability to satisfy in a moderate way all legitimate tastes." Although the press once tended to inspire anxiety and unhappiness, now it can be relied on to give readers reassurance and peace of mind. The media have, in short, "the ability to be comprehensible and uncomplicated, adapting to the tastes of modern man."
Jensen has never failed to solve a case. He is a cop's cop, tireless, incorruptible, puritanical, a stickler for the rules. As he pursues his investigation, he is continually turning in people for petty infractions, especially private drunkenness. His thoroughness begins to unsettle the company's executives. They become more concerned with preserving the secret of the "thirty-first floor" than with discovering who is threatening the company. If he can unlock the door to the thirty-first floor, the chief inspector will find his culprit. He will also find the key to the mysterious control exercised by the society over its writers and intellectuals.
With his wife, the poet Maj Sjowall, Per Wahloo was responsible for the Martin Beck novels, the detective series that was also an acute critique of Swedish society. In "Murder on the Thirty-First Floor," by exaggerating certain contemporary trends and phenomena only slightly (the dependence on the automobile and the mindlessness of popular culture), he has created a tense page-turner that is also an intellectual thriller.