Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sjöwall and Wahlöö

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are a well-known husband-and-wife team of detective writers from Sweden. As a team they planned and wrote a series of ten novels (police procedurals) about the exploits of detectives from the homicide section of the Stockholm police department. They also wrote novels separately. For the Martin Beck series, they plotted and researched each book together, and then wrote alternate chapters.

From the beginning, the pair planned the series as a sequence of ten novels, collectively titled The Story of a Crime. The novels revolve around a team of police investigators, led by Martin Beck.

Roseanna (Roseanna, 1965)
The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966)
The Man on the Balcony (Mannen på balkongen, 1967)
The Laughing Policeman (Den skrattande polisen, 1968) (Edgar Award, Best Novel, 1971)
The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Brandbilen som försvann, 1969)
Murder at the Savoy (Polis, polis, potatismos!, 1970)
The Abominable Man (Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971)
The Locked Room (Det slutna rummet, 1972)
Cop Killer (Polismördaren, 1974)
The Terrorists (Terroristerna, 1975)

Per Wahlöö described their goals for the series as to "use the crime novel as a scalpel cutting open the belly of the ideologically pauperized and morally debatable so-called welfare state of the bourgeois type."

The series is noteworthy for how the lives of its characters change over the books. Beck gets divorced, Kollberg quits the force, a third detective gets killed. The leitmotif of the series, written from the authors' clearly defined socialist viewpoint, is to indicate how Sweden, as a country which champions social democracy, nevertheless has the same problems of inequality and crime as other capitalist countries. The political events of the times often play a significant role as backdrop for the plots, such as the Greek dictatorship, the Vietnam War, and so on. Because the authors intended the books as a critique of capitalist society, all the titles in the original edition were given the subtitle "report of a crime"; on purpose an ambiguous phrase.

The final novel of the series,The Terrorists, was not finished when Per Wahlöö passed away in June 1975, so Maj Sjöwall had to finish it alone. During Wahlöö's illness, which eventually led to his death, he sat up writing day and night in order to finish the book before it was too late.

The above is lifted from the rather uninspiring Wiki entry here. The grand finale of the series is memorable: Beck and his paramour, at home playing Scrabble, as Beck spells out, for the final line of The Terrorists,

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