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Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo - The Abominable Man
on 2 May 2008
One night, a high-ranking Stockholm police officer is stabbed in his hospital bed, run through with a bayonet. The officer in question has a history of brutality towards those in custody, and as such the list of suspects seems endless. Martin Beck and his team must scour the city for a vicious killer at the same time as delving into the victim's past, which is all too clouded with possible leads.
The Abominable Man is the 7th entry in the prolifically praised Martin Beck series, now reprinted in its entirety by HarperPerennial, each new edition coming complete with a section of goodies at the end (author interviews, essays, recommendations, etc), and seven having new introductions from contemporary authors (though this is not one of those 7). I am slowly making my way through these new translations, and discovering what crime-fiction fans in the 60's and 70's were being shown: that this is one of the most accomplished police procedural series written, certainly then, and, even greater achievement, to this day still. Comprising a decade-long examination of a city, a police force, and its constituent members, by now the decline in Swedish society that the authors wanted to highlight is well-and-truly underway in this entry, one of the most powerful and impassioned in the series so far.
The Abominable Man takes as its victim the traditions and inner cultures of the Swedish police-force, damning the methods often used in the past, the people who they formed (or allowed to become prominent), and the present changes being wrought. The plot is relatively straightforward: a police officer is run through in his sick-bed, and the investigators must find out why. It's not very complex, and as such unfolds over a much quicker period of time than many previous novels in the series, barely 24 hours in fact. As such it is one of the most immediately engaging and exciting to read, and certainly the one that reads the quickest, which made a nice change and helped to make it one of my favourites in the series so far. Admittedly, the lack of complexity in the plot (though the writing, in terms of social and character examination, is as complex as ever) makes it feel a bit slight, but the clear passion in the writing more than makes up for that. It's a short, sharp devastating bullet aimed at the Sweden of the sixties, and it certainly hits its mark. The whole thing is a near-complete triumph - exciting, pacy, interesting, and the climax is brilliant. Onto number 8...