on 17 August 2010
Having become an avid reader of Scandinavian crime authors over the past few years this series was brought to my attention by an article in a Sunday newspaper.
The article detailed the various influences that the series had had on more modern writers such as Henning Mankell and recommended strongly that the books were worth reading.
I ordered the series as a package and was delighted by it.The book spines are numbered 1-10 and in a line spell out MARTIN BECK.Although I have read the books in order it is clear that they stand as novels in their own right and can be read individually without reference to the others,although the occasional reference to a previous case is made in each book.
The main character,Beck,is not as dominant a figure as Wallander is in the Mankell novels,with the investigations proceeding much more on a team basis.The lack of computers,mobile phones and instant access to information is noticeable as is the amount of smoking done by almost every character,but this does not reduce the reading pleasure.
Being aware that the authors held strong left wing political views at the time adds to the fun by looking out for the occasional subtle ( or not so subtle)digs at Sweden's capitalist society and warnings of what the future may hold.
The books are very enjoyable.Well paced with interesting,believable characters who develop throughout the series.At times they are quite violent and the occasional sexual references are certainly more explicit than we expect in today's PC world.
I would highly recommend them to anyone ,like me,who enjoys police procedural novels with the added twist of Scandinavian environment and a close detachment from
on 10 March 2015
Searching to add Murder At The Savoy to my Goodreads TBR list I noticed that it shares a title with a Sherlock Holmes story. I've not read the Holmes though so don't know if the similarities end there or not. This is the sixth in the Martin Beck series and I've actually read them all in order (so far!). I think it is the least police-ey and most political story so, although I agree with Sjowall and Wahloo's sentiments - indeed much of their 'evils of big business' warning is being experienced in exactly the same way in the UK nearly fifty years later - I wasn't particularly satisfied with the book itself.
Martin Beck doesn't have much of a role to play and most of the action seems to happen around him. He is also removed from his usual Stockholm haunts so that atmosphere is missing too. I didn't feel the same camaraderie that I enjoyed in previous books, perhaps because the team is fragmented, although there are still great moments. For me, Murder At The Savoy was the weakest of the series yet. It was still a good read compared to many modern formulaic crime thrillers, but I expected better so was a little disappointed. Hopefully number seven will be back on form.
The sixth Martin Beck book, published in 1970 and translated by Joan Tate in 1971, opens at the Savoy Hotel in Malmö where a group of people is dining. One, Viktor Palmgren, a wealthy industrialist, stands to make a short speech, and is shot by an attacker who makes a successful getaway. Detective Inspector Per Månsson is initially given the case but, because of possible political and international ramifications, Beck is brought in from Stockholm to strengthen the investigation team.
From descriptions of the assailant a possible suspect is identified but, the disaster-prone duo that the authors employ so well, Kristiansson and Kvant, fail to detain him in Stockholm. The investigation begins to dig into Palmgren’s background, which gives the authors the opportunity to vent their spleen on international big business, capitalism, corrupt politicians and the super rich. This is balanced by humour, as in ‘Whereas everything happened on Monday and something on Tuesday, nothing at all happened on Wednesday. Nothing that furthered the investigation, anyway.’
The scene of the investigation is Malmö, although Larsson and Kollberg help out from Stockholm. The National Police Board’s Security Division, Sepo/Säpo [‘despised by many but primarily renowned for its unsurpassed incompetence.’], are also seeking the killer but, unfortunately, their agent, Paulsson [‘dressed in a houndstooth check suit of modern, youthful cut, a striped shirt, yellow shoes and socks of the same fierce colour.’] is quite unbelievable and very naïve, a rare misjudgement by the authors.
The authors are not quite as deft quite in describing Palmgren, his trophy wife and business associates as they are with lower orders of society [‘Unhappy people, nervous wrecks, were driven into desperate situations against their wills. In almost all the cases, alcohol or drugs were decisive factors…the relentless logic of the big city, which wore down the weak-willed and the maladjusted and drove them to senseless actions.’]. That said, the plot is compelling and the interactions between the policemen, who include the ambitious Benny Skacke [‘He imagined himself coming up with the solution, tracking down and catching the murderer single-handed. He would be promoted, and after that the only direction would be up. He was close to becoming Chief of Police when a new ring on the phone interrupted his vision of the future.’], who transferred to Malmö after the events described in ‘The Fire Engine that Disappeared’, are every bit as interesting as we have come to expect. Åsa Torell, who has joined the Vice Squad following the murder of her boyfriend Åke Stenström [see ‘The Laughing Policeman’].
The summer is one of the hottest on record and Sjöwall and Wahlöö do well to describe the flagging energies and sweaty bodies of the various characters. There is, unusually, just a single case to be investigated, and luck is once again harnessed to diligent police work to identify a suspect who, by the end, we come to sympathise with much more than the murder victim, his family and friends.
On the final page, Beck reflects on the investigation. ‘Moreover, a case has been wound up. He should have felt good, but it didn’t seem that way. Viktor Palmgren was dead. Gone forever and missed by no one, save for a handful of international swindlers and representatives of suspect regimes in countries far away. They would soon learn to do business with Mats Linder instead, and so things would be, to all intents and purposes, unchanged…..’ [it continues for a few more paragraphs but to write more would reveal the murderer.] ‘Chief Inspector Martin Beck didn’t feel good at all.’
Beck is his usual morose self, coming down yet again with a cold. The plodding realism of the investigation once again runs the risk of losing the reader’s attention and this, and the degree of political carping by the characters, may have annoyed some reviewers. However, Richard Shephard addresses these in another excellent set of short essays at the end of the book [‘A Policeman’s Lot is not a Happy One’, ‘Society is to Blame’ and Police and Policies’]. The Introduction to this Harper Perennial edition is by Michael Carlson, a book reviewer and film critic, whose work I did not know. He alerts the reader to the authors’ left-wing opinions that are reflected by his characters, by the unremitting negative attributes and activities of Palmgren et al. and the sensitivites of the politicians and senior police officers to untoward comments about big business or suggestions of corruption reaching the media.
Although this can be read as a stand-alone book, there is a much greater impact if the series is read in sequence.
This is the sixth book in the Martin Beck series, and the murder in question is that of a businessman, Viktor Palmgren, who is addressing colleagues at a dinner in the Savoy Hotel, Malmö. The murder has the appearance of a professional hit, so the emphasis at first is on whether the murder is political or commercial. Two detectives are mainly involved, Per Månsson, the local man, and Martin Beck, drafted in from Stockholm. They have worked together before and get on well. Two other detectives are also involved, both of whom will be well known to readers of the series: Lennart Kollberg and Gunvald Larsson.
Without giving the game away, the enquiry points up the unscrupulous business methods of the murdered man who, it seems, no one will miss. His wife already has a lover and his business colleagues see it as an opportunity.
I have read a review of this book which claimed that this is the first of the Martin Beck series in which the authors' Marxist viewpoint is overtly stated. I think this is probably true, though the authors try to disguise it. The most serious outbreak occurs in the opening pages of Chapter 12. Two brief examples:
`There was no shortage of work, however, for all varieties of crime flourished better than ever in the fertile topsoil provided by the welfare state.'
`The fact that juvenile delinquency and alcoholism (which has always been a problem) continued to increase surprised no one but those with responsible positions in the Civil Service and at Cabinet level.'
At the end of this analysis you might be forgiven for thinking that the authors are addressing the reader directly, and it doesn't get more overt than that. Then they add these words: `Thought Lennart Kollberg'. This is, of course, a blatant ruse.
The book is a good read and, for those into this sort of thing, there is even an act of sexual congress involving Martin Beck (unlikely as this may seem) described with the authors' usual attention to detail.
The sixth book in the Martin Beck series follows the same lean, sardonic and insightful formula as the previous volumes. It is summer, and most of the events take place in Malmo, the coastal town which is the home turf of DI Per Mansson, who has collaborated with Martin Beck in previous investigations. He's assisted by the young, ambitious Benny Skacke, newly transferred to the region after his disastrous intervention at the end of THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED.
A business dinner at the Savoy Hotel ends in drama when the host, industrialist Viktor Palmgren, is shot by a man who walks in to the dining room, performs the deed, then calmly escapes through an open window and rides off on a bicycle. The case would have been open and shut but for the fact that the two policemen who are sent to intercept the most probable suspect are the disaster-prone Kvant and Kristiansson, the laziest men on the force. They fail to apprehend the suspect in true hilarious fashion (the fact that the Swedish title of the book is literally translated as "Police, Police, Potato Pig", according to the delightfully informative introduction by Michael Carson, gives a clue as to what intercepted them).
Martin Beck is told to drop his holiday plans and go to Malmo to help Mansson. Political elements are involved, causing Beck's superiors to send in the security services also, in an uncomfortable parallel investigation. Most of Beck's regular associates are on holiday, but there are some good set-pieces in Stockholm as the dead man's business dealings are untangled, involving the old-fashioned, heavy cop Gunvald Larsson, as well as an episode with Lennart Kollberg and Asa Torell, the woman who has joined the police after her boyfriend was killed in THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN.
Eventually, a lucky discovery breaks the case. The careful investigative work into Palmgren's sleazy associates allows Beck and colleagues to rapidly identify the culprit. During the book, however, we have come to despise Palmgren's circle and its role in the corruption and exploitation rife in "modern" Sweden (the book was written in 1970), and by the time the murderer is identified, we sympathise with him far more than with his victim. MURDER AT THE SAVOY is well up to the standards of this excellent series, and praise does not come much higher than that.
Although this is 6th in the series it is the last of the ten books written that I have read: what a pity they didn't get to write more. All of the books are well written and are pleasantly addictive: this one is about a not altogether likable businessman who is murdered in front of his dinner guests in a high class hotel dining room and no-one present can help to identify the killer. Each of the diners have their own reasons to be glad and to profit from their bosses death, including the wife, but do not have any particular motive for being involved. The murder squad are all over the place and Martin Beck is at a loss as to where to look next until a bit of luck points him in the right direction. All of the books are formulaic but that is actually part of the appeal with familiarity being an essential ingredient that makes the slow procedures that inevitably lead to a solution seem rational and interesting when, in the end, murder has been committed by an ordinary person for the most mundane reason. In this case, motive, opportunity and means is driven almost on a whim, which makes it so hard to solve. This book is a bit of a slow burn, but well worth reading.