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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...
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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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on 22 September 2015
Not the best of the series it is particularly long (make that long-winded) on various thoughts and processes until the end when all of a sudden ... No it is worth reading so I'll leave it there. Interesting to read the books again when the Swedish TV Series "Beck" is currently on BBC - unrecognisable but fun, too.
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on 3 October 2014
The trademark violent start of the books in this series, only this time the victim is a senior police officer. The book gradually unravels the truth about the officer and why people might have reason to hate him. The 'dumb cop' types Kristianssen and Kvant feature again to provide the humour. These 'police procedurals' are totally honest, for example in their criticism of Swedish police being armed and what happens if a police officer feels morally unable to shoot. This is a completely addictive series and once you have read one book in the series, you will want to track down the other nine.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 April 2014
I first read the Martin Beck books many years ago in the Gollancz ‘Yellow Cover’ series and listened to them again recently on the radio. I did not think that they transferred too well to that medium and so am taking the opportunity to read them again, this time in Thomas Teal’s translation. The Abominable Man’ seemed, perhaps because of its story of a gunman in a multi-storey apartment block besieged by police, to fare particularly poorly on the radio so I chose it first.

What struck me was firstly was the economy of the writing and, secondly, just how graphic the initial murder was. The impression that this killing would have made in 1971 cannot be imagined today where each police procedural book seems to compete for the greatest number of parts into which a body can be dismembered using a blowtorch and pneumatic drill. I just wish I had kept a record of my initial impression of this book, although the translator was different. Here, Teal is, to my ears, faultless.

Perhaps the spare writing is unfashionable these days. I just reveled in it. Martin Beck and Einar Rönn do not get on ‘’Damn it to hell’ said Martin Beck suddenly with emphasis. ‘Yeah,’ said Rönn. Then it was quiet again in the car’. Sociologists had a low reputation in 1970s Sweden, ‘The police force took a very dim view of sociologists….Perhaps the brass realized that in the long run it would prove untenable simply to insist that everyone involved in sociology was actually a communist or some other subversive’. Stockholm is changing ‘The inner city became a clamorous, all but impassable construction site from which the new city slowly and relentlessly arose with its broad, noisy traffic arteries, its shining façades of glass and light metal, its dead surfaces of flat concrete, its bleakness and its desolation’. As is the postal service, ‘Kollberg looked suspiciously at the stamp.... It belonged to a series of newly released stamps which, if he understood the thing correctly, guaranteed that letters bearing them would be conveyed with specious sluggishness. The kind of subtlety so typical of the post office’.

Beck is under no illusion about the work he does [‘many years of experience had taught him that most of his work was in fact pointless, and that even the things that provided results in the long run almost always looked pointless to begin with’]. The climax of the story is a stand off between a gunman and the surrounding policemen, firemen, policemen disguised as firemen, helicopters, reporters and sightseers, ‘But the net is closing,’ said Malm [in overall charge], looking pleased. This cliché was so moth-eaten that no-one even had the strength to smile inwardly. What’s more, for once it gave it gave a fairly accurate picture of the situation’. A helicopter is shot down - ‘Then came the impotent substitute for revenge. Hundreds of different weapons belched out bullets towards the building on Dalgatan. Few of them with any definite target, and none of them with any effect’.

The interrelationships between the members of the police team, the victim’s family and that of the suspect are deftly presented and we again meet ‘constables Karl Kristiansson and Kurt Kvant, two blond giants from Skåne whose nearly twelve years of adventure as radio policemen included several successful and a vast number of entirely unsuccessful actions’. I don’t think that years ago I would have appreciated the sympathy for the likely killer, let down by the system – a story that has contemporary resonance. Finally, the story is not neatly rounded off although, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that there are three more investigations to come.

In addition to this, Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s seventh novel of the ten books in their ‘Story of a Crime’ series, this Harper Perennial paperback also contains, not the usual anodyne puff about the author, his/her interests, inspirations and pets, but three short but informative essays, ‘A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One’, summarising the history of the detective novel and discussing the characters in Beck’s team, ‘Society is to Blame’, discussing the social and political context of the series, and ‘Police and Policies’ describing the internal development of the series, which had always been planned to end at number ten. ‘Life at a Glance’ summarises the lives of the authors, Sjöwall is still working as a translator at the age of 78. Finally, ‘True Crime – Just the Facts?’ describes the real-life criminal and terrorist events that formed a background to the series.

It was like meeting old friends again and I need no encouragement to complete the series, as suggested in the final end text ‘Have You Read?’.
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on 15 August 2013
This is perhaps the least enjoyable story in the 10 novel sequence, with the authors' views on 60's Swedish society and police deficiencies more strident. As with several others in the series, sympathy is with the perpetrator and the polemic is laid on a bit thick. The account of a helicopter attempt to solve a siege situation is chilling, but this book is certainly not for the squeamish.
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on 6 April 2014
If you like the current trend for "scandi-noir" but haven't read this series do yourself a favour and start now - you can read the books out of order but I deliberately made sure I followed the sequence, not essential, but it does help with Beck, the not always central character.
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on 3 January 2014
As always, the authors use the vehicle of a detective story to write a commentary on the Sweden of their time. It is hardly a detective story, because it is clear from quite early on "who did it". What grips is the gradual exposing of the reasons why, and the culture of the Swedish police.
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on 28 August 2010
The Martin Beck novels are a series of gritty police procedural novels set in Sweden in the 1960s. Darkly humourous, they nevertheless expose the criminality and injustices lurking underneath the rocks of a seemingly benign Scandinavian society on the cusp of social change. The gruesome crimes that the world weary Martin Beck is called to investigate act as a sort of rupture, allowing us to glimpse the everyday cruelties, social injustices and personal depravities underneath the facade of Swedish social democracy.

This unfortunately, is the weakest entry in the otherwise excellent series up to this point. The book starts off well with a tense and paranoid victim's-eye view of a brutal murder. What then follows is an investigation into a classic Martin Beck theme: police brutality and the abuse of power. Like the creators of The Wire, another piece of hard hitting social commentry disguised as brilliant crime-fiction, Sojwall and Whaloo can make the search through the archives for information about a crime totally rivetting. However, about half-way through the book, the gritty police-procedural comes to a full stop, punctuated by a shocking act of violence. What follows jettisons the realism of the Beck novels for a pulpy and Hollywood-ish scenario that really jars with the tone of the series. Of course the Beck series has a heavy American influence, but elsewhere it is transposed well into the Swedish setting, creating something unique. Here it just feels cliche. Very disappointing, but thankfully one of the few off-notes in an excellent series.
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on 9 October 2013
These are the original Nordic Noir and follow a group of Stockholm detectives through the 60's and early 70's written by a couple they have a fantastic view of police work and the pressures put on the actual policemen by the politicians and beureacrats who demand results regardless of the truth.
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