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The BBC's dramatisation of the fifth of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's Martin Beck police procedurals is one of the very best even though Beck finds himself sidelined for much of the drama by Sjowall's favourite character Gunnar Larsson, the blunt, non-nonsense detective who suddenly finds himself an unexpected hero when an explosion at a house being staked out leads to him saving several lives and ending up in hospital. Written off as an accident, much to Larsson's fury, it naturally turns out to be deliberate (something no-one is too happy to discover), leading to an investigation into whether a stolen car ring could have provided enough of a motive for murder - especially since this was a very professional murder designed to have only one victim, something thwarted by a mix-up over addresses that prevented the fire brigade arriving on time.

With the emphasis on Larsson there's naturally a much bigger part this time round for the wonderful Ralph Ineson, whether he's butting heads with his superior Einar Ronn (Russell Boulter), who gets a much larger part this time round since he was Wahloo's favourite character to balance things out, driving everyone up the wall while in hospital or throwing in a wonderfully unsubtle mention of torture in Greece that's interpreted as a pickup line by witness who fancies him something rotten. But rather than the two authors having a busman's holiday with their two favourite supporting characters, it's a well-crafted mystery that finds a surprising amount of room for the further irretrievable breakdown of Beck's marriage, the contrasting marital bliss of colleague Lennart Kollberg (Neil Pearson) and Ronn's own domestic dilemma - a toy fire engine that's somehow disappeared from his tiny flat. An absolute winner that's one of the very best in the series.
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This is the fifth of the BBC adaptations of Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck series of books, starring Steven Mackintosh as Beck and Neil Pearson as Kolberg. Whilst on a routine observation, the flat that Gunvald Larsson is watching suddenly explodes. He heroically helps several of the occupants to escape, getting injured himself in the process. Upon his return to duty he is surprised to see the case written off as a suicide. Martin Beck is also unhappy, and something is nagging at him. As they, and the rest of Beck’s team start to probe deeper they uncover a nasty little can of worms.

This is another riveting listen from the BBC in this series. Mackintosh and Pearson are superb as Beck and Kolberg, though this episode belongs to Ralph Ineson as Larsson, as Beck takes a bit of a back seat and the investigation is driven by Larsson. Well produced, great story line, great acting. 5 stars.
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on 27 July 2013
There is a bit of inconsistency in the Martin Beck series but this is a brilliant read, the sour comments about Swedish society are spiced with a bit of humour, and the best joke in the 10 volumes involves a Bohemian sculptress's magnum opus. Any fan of Scandinavian noir on TV will enjoy finding out where it all comes from, this edition has the air of a school textbook with a bit too much exposition for my liking, but is nicely presented and the translation is competent.
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on 6 September 2013
I enjoy the continuity of the base story thread running in the background of each of the Beck books and feel the characters are like old colleagues or acquaintances. It's amusing to read about the quirks of each character and their foibles and how they all work together to solve the crimes. These books are easy reading but gripping, and having a fair amount of knowledge of the geography of Sweden helps me to imagine the places the detectives find themselves. I enjoy Scandinavian crime novels and these are a fabulous new find for me. It's a pity that Per Wahloo is no longer alive to continue the stories with Maj Sjowall. I will read the rest of the series with relish, and I know I will mourn when I have finished them all.
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VINE VOICEon 24 October 2007
Alongside the first book Roseanna, and The Man on the Balcony, this is among the best of the Martin Beck decalogue.

The story is quite wide-ranging in geography and plot, with interesting procedural details. And all the regulars are present, including Melander and the bear-like Gunvald Larsson, plus the inept Kristiansson and Kvant for slight comic relief. A new recruit, Benny Skacke is introduced. Recommended.
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on 2 July 2016
Not Quite sure how Beck rose to his rank, given that he rarely is the one who breaks through in his cases, but I enjoy the sense that the whole police force, working together, gets there in the end. Good translation, too, with a sense both of place and culture.
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on 19 April 2016
Considered to be the first police procedural novels, these books have inspired all the Nordic Noir of recent years. However, they still hold up well after all these years and when you read the books they inspired you can see clear homage paid by later authors. A great series.
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I am in the process of reading all of the Martin Beck series of book: there are only 10 and I have one more to go, unfortunately, as the books are addictive, well written and attention grabbling. The story centres around a fire - is it arson and murder or an unfortunate accident. The problem is that there are no clues either way for Beck and the team to get their teeth into. Then again, no-one really cares except Gunvald Larson. Bit by bit, the pieces do fall into place, mainly because there is something nagging about the incident, not least of all a fire engine wasn't there - at a fire that was. And where is the guy at the centre of it all: Sweden, Poland, France, Denmark? As usual, the murder squad team slowly and with the odd bit of good fortune feel their way through a mystery that keeps throwing up more questions than answers until finally, the questions begin to answer themselves. Completely gripping.
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VINE VOICEon 1 February 2012
This is the fifth book in the Martin beck series. The title comes from a toy which one of the officers, Einar Rönn, gave to his young son. There is another fire engine which also disappeared in that it failed to arrive at the scene of a fire because it was directed to the wrong address. Two for the price of one!

There is a fire in a building occupied by quite a few people in different apartments. The outbreak is noticed by Gunvald Larsson who, at great danger to himself, rescues several of the occupants. He is there because the police are keeping an eye on a small-time criminal who lives there. Larsson's heroics don't seem to impress himself too much, despite the burns to his hands and concussion. Neither do they impress his colleague, Lennart Kollberg, who has a strong antipathy to Larsson.

As the book progresses, Beck, Kollberg and Larsson all advance the investigation, each in his own way. Though it appears that the suspect committed suicide by gas inhalation and it was gas which caused the fire, none of them are wholly convinced. Larsson interviews as many of the occupants as he can while still on sick leave, and forensics show that though the suspect had intended to kill himself the fire had been an attempt to kill him. Is this death connected to the man found dead in Malmö harbour and the suicide of man whom Beck had never heard of but who had, nonetheless, written down his phone number?

Because of the body in the harbour, the Stockholm officers secure the help of an officer from Malmö, Per Månsson, who provides a great deal of information, both from his home town and from an artist in Copenhagen with whom, and at her invitation, he also sleeps before getting down to official business. Månson had appeared briefly in the previous book but his character is fully developed here.

All of the officers in this book have their good points, even the much-maligned Larsson, who may be tiringly thorough but does get results. He is unusually direct in his interview technique but usually gets away with it. An example of this is his questioning of a secretary, Doris Mårtensson, just after she has returned from a holiday in Greece. Despite the fact she is flirting with him throughout he tells her, in brutal detail, exactly what he thinks of the methods of the military junta then in power. Not that she cares.

There is some excellent writing in this book. Examples would be the scene in Malmö involving two young boys fishing from the quay, quite lyrical in its way, or the description of the behaviour of the average Swede on Walpurgis Eve, which is somewhat more satirical. Romania, on the other hand, does not get the satirical treatment. Apparently, at the time of writing, theses nice Romanians had completed their latest five-year plan in three years! No doubt this was down to the inspiration provided by the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, Nicolae Ceau'escu. Remember him?

Despite that last point, this book has a lot going for it - including the sly humour, which I have not illustrated in this review - though it isn't quite as good as The Laughing Policeman.
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VINE VOICEon 4 April 2012
Another superb book in the Martin Beck series. Subtle, totally believable, humane, analytical. If you haven't read the Martin Beck books, I unreservedly recommend them. If you have read some but not this, get it - its brilliant.
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