Top critical review
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Ha bloody ha
on 19 September 2011
For about half to two-thirds of this widely-praised police procedural novel from the excellent husband & wife team of Sjowall & Wahloo, I agreed with the general consensus that this is indeed a gripping, nail-biting mystery, one of the greats in the genre.
However, also at around the halfway mark, I was damn sure I had identified the mass murderer, a highly unlikely culprit about whom I would love to tell you, but it might spoil your enjoyment of the book, so I won`t. The thing is, whether by accident - surely not? - or design, the criminal turns out to be someone wholly different from the person against whom the authors have piled up what seemed to me to be overwhelming evidence, and I was left feeling a bit cheated, especially as no more was said on the matter of `my` suspect. In fact I found the denouement underwhelming and something of a protracted anti-climax.
(Should you be interested in who I thought it was, please see the Comments section, below. I`d be intrigued to know if anyone else thought the same, and whether you felt at all shortchanged by the end.)
This is indeed a terrific read, much more of a page turner than one or two others in this series from the 60s/70s, and will reward the crime aficianado. But - and it`s a big but - there are simply far too many characters (some who only appear in exhaustive police lists) who, not surprisingly, have often absurdly similar Swedish names. I defy anyone to follow the whole plot from beginning to end, especially when the detectives start to re-open an old case...
On the plus side, the chief characters, both in and out of the police force, are beautifully drawn. A mordant humour leaks in to proceedings with welcome regularity, and the laconic banter between the often dour, sometimes downright lazy officers is a delight.
To call this a Martin Beck novel though is at best a misnomer, at worst a blatant lie. He hardly appears in it, and when he does it`s to spread germs from his eternal
cold and to contribute little more than the odd line here & there. It is his colleagues who take centre stage in this one. The loss is minimal, since Beck must be one of the least likeable detectives in all crime fiction. He`s so unforthcoming!
In fact, he`s rather faceless, considering he gives his name to the series. A mystery in itself.
Despite all my criticisms, this is still a very good crime novel, but my guess is that it will leave as many readers frustrated, even exasperated, as it will satisfied.
7 out of 10.