4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"The Terrorists" is the last book in the terrific Martin Beck series by the Swedish writing team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. In his introduction to the book, American mystery writer Dennis Lehane makes the apt observation that the authors "write of modern violence with clarity so fluid it achieves a kind of musical grace." And the masterful writing here, which certainly goes way beyond the description of violence, really is intelligent and entertaining. There is a wonderful central plot that is preceded and enhanced by two sub-stories relating to the main event, but which also serve to establish the political and social context in which the latter unrolls.
In a nutshell, the book is about the hunt for a team of hired terrorists which has arrived in Stockholm to assassinate a prominent right-wing American politician (circa 1975); a man who invited himself to the Swedish welfare state to score some kind of political points at home by celebrating the old order i.e. the late king of Sweden. Martin Beck is chosen to head the police team that is to protect the visitor and eradicate the terrorist threat. At about the same time, Beck is drawn into two other "lesser" crimes that will eventually intersect with the threatened assassination. One involves the alleged attempt to rob a bank by a young woman carrying a baby and the second is the murder of a highly successful pornographic film maker. The authors ultimately make clear that in their view these two events are far more important to the country's welfare than the possible death of an important political figure.
As extraordinary as the book's plot is, it is the terrific cast of characters that Sjowall and Wahloo have created that sticks with you at the end of the book. The lead character of Martin Beck is solidly human and sympathetic, as are his colleagues and loved ones--Gunvald Larsson, Crasher Braxen, Rhea Nielsen and several others. The authors have made these players look even more perceptive, brave and virtuous as they are starkly contrasted with a team of bumbling, venal and wantonly corrupt characters that mostly represent the top of the Swedish government at the time, the amoral visiting terrorists and the worst of private businesspeople.
Much is made of the authors' Marxist leanings, but "The Terrorists" is (in my opinion) about much more than politics and the problems of the Swedish social welfare state of the 1970s. It is first and foremost an excellent crime thriller and secondarily a plausible critique of a flawed social system. Sjowall and Wahloo are very fine writers who blazed a wide trail for later authors like Henning Mankell and Stieg Larrsson. This is a highly enjoyable read. Recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This, the last of the ten books in the classic Martin Beck series was published in 1975, this English translation by Joan Tate being from the same year.
It is difficult not to recall the context within which this book was written. Sjöwall and Wahlöö had always planned `The Story of a Crime' to be a series of ten books. However, Wahlöö was terminally ill when the final book was being written and, for the first time in the series, they did not write alternate chapters, rather Wahlöö did most of the writing and Sjöwall the editing. The manuscript was completed in Spring, 1975, and Wahlöö died that June. Under the circumstances, it is amazing that the book is as good as it is.
In the course of three linked stories, about the killing of a pornographic film director, a young woman robbing a bank and, the main theme, a terrorist plot to assassinate a visiting American Senator during a visit to Sweden, the authors introduce or mention characters from throughout the series. For readers who have followed Beck and his colleagues from `Roseanna' this is a most enjoyable experience.
The book is the longest of the series and, dare I suggest, had more time been available it might have been trimmed a little. Some of Wahlöö's far left views have been slotted in in a rather ungainly manner - as when the bank robber's lawyer, Hedobald `Crasher' Braxén, addresses the court during her arraignment on another charge. Braxén is, like Herrgott Allwright, the Anderslöv police inspector from the penultimate book, too much of a caricature.
But this would be churlish given how well the authors present mid-1970s Sweden, maintain the excellence of their plotting and add their inimitable humour, as when Gunvald Larsson, sent abroad to get ideas on how to organise an effective VIP police protection campaign, is struck by what he failed to see coming.
In 2014, the themes of this book - countering terrorism, drug use, exploitation of women, corruption and the responsibility of the state for the disadvantaged in society - remain topical. In all three stories the guilt of those arrested is without doubt but the reader, not for the first time, sympathises as a result of what has led them to take such action. The Senator's visit is described from the standpoints of the authorities, led by Beck, seeking to protect him and the plotters, and the outcome is followed by a huge twist.
Beck is at his most reflective in this novel, reconsidering his relationships with colleagues, with Kollberg, now retired from police service, and deciding to establish contact with his son whom he admits he does not particularly like. The reason for this is Rhea Nielsen, met in the previous book, and already their happiness is evident. The very end of the book holds out the possibility of a different life for Beck.
Today's reader has the benefit of decades of hindsight in seeing the weaknesses in the authors' Marxist critique of contemporary Swedish society, but this must be put into the context of Sweden in the mid-1960s/mid-1970s when it appeared to offer an alternative to the excesses and exploitations of rampant capitalism. Their concern was at the changes in the way that, since nationalisation, the Swedish police operated against society with increasing provocation and violence, and of its political motivation; this is described at the beginning of chapter 16.
Even readers who rail against the politics should be grateful. It was only after realising that few people would pay to read his overtly political tracts that Wahlöö discussed with Sjöwall the possibility of getting their message across through the medium of detective fiction.
Harper Perennial have done an excellent job in republishing these ten books, with introductions by authors whose work has been influenced by Sjöwall and Wahlöö and with thought-provoking PSs by Richard Shepherd. However, the former were absent from the last two books and, if ever there were a need for an authoritative overview, a final PS, it was at the end of this book. What a missed opportunity!
The gradual change in Beck's character and his perennial sneezing, the death of Stenström, the crass ineptitude of Malm, Melander's disappearances, Rönn's nose, Larsson's outbursts, Månsson's toothpicks, Rhea Nielsen's influence and the antics of Kristiansson, Kvant [RIP] and Kvastmo, I will miss them all.
Perhaps the best summary of the whole series is this last exchange of dialogue by the authors, `Kollberg ... looked at Martin Beck and said, "The trouble with you, Martin, is just that you've got the wrong job. At the wrong time. In the wrong part of the world. In the wrong system." "Is that all?" was Beck's reply.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The final instalment of the much-praised Martin Beck series finds Beck and his colleagues on the hunt for international terrorists as an American Senator comes visiting Stockholm, and comes under threat of assassination. The book has a more global feel to it than some of the previous titles, and in places may well have been influenced by the manhunt style documentary thriller of Frederick Forsyth's The Day of The Jackal which had appeared at the start of the 1970s.
As usual, dry, scathing attacks on the rotten nature of Swedish society as Sjowall and Wahloo saw it, permeate the text, and in fact it's this sense of uncaring society despite the sham of saying otherwise that lies at the heart of the tragedy that unfolds in this final volume.
The characters remain well-drawn and convincing, although I did think the plot slackened a bit at the end and there was some slight padding before the final strands were drawn together. Coming through 10 books with the same characters, it's hard not to feel some sense of sadness that this is the last volume in what, overall, is a cracking good series that holds up superbly well over the course of time.
But it is the fact that the series is limited to 10 novels that in many ways gives the books enduring appeal and strength. Thankfully, no-one has attempted to update them and write new titles, which can't be said for some series' characters who get given a new lease of life when another author is given the task of adding to the canon. Classics are best left alone and enjoyed for the masterpieces they are. Enduring, entertaining, educational, influential - pretty much sums up the Martin Beck series.
on 15 August 2012
It is hard to summarize what happens in this book. It concerns painstaking research into the murder of a porn producer, but begins and ends with acts of terrorism. Plenty of things go wrong. But Lennart Kollberg, who hated his job so much that he resigned (and now works half time in a museum), will play a decisive role in this final volume. It is the bulkiest book of the series and appeared after co-author Per Wahlöö passed away in 1975. It is up to the readers to appreciate this final installment and wonder about what S&W will have in mind for Martin Beck's farewell (Mankell's hero Kurt Wallander ended his tenth appearance diagnosed with Alzheimer). So what is their legacy.
S&W made their name by fusing their doubts about the Swedish welfare state with their brilliant police procedurals, creating a Scandinavian type of crime writing. It spawned other Swedish authors like Henning Mankell and Arne Dahl, who used their formats in series of 10 (+) books each. S&W surely inspired writers elsewhere, but this reader steps on thin ice when asked for names.
A number of S&W's novels were made into feature films. Swedish TV created a series called "Martin Beck", which was/is still successful worldwide despite a casting mistake: the actors for Martin Beck and one of his key associates are almost look-alikes. But viewers love the casting of the actor playing Gunvald Larsson, now an ambitious, scheming dress horse.
Re books sold, royalties and film contracts, S&W are trumped by Henning Mankell. BBC- and Swedish-made series about Wallander compete worldwide for TV audiences. Finally, were S&W in their writing days fans of a multicultural Sweden? I dare say not. Their portrayal of foreigners, incl. immigrant medical doctors from Afghanistan and Turkey is brief and rather dismissive.