I don’t know if Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö planned for there to only be ten books in the Martin Beck series but here, at book nine, things seem to be wrapping up. This book is the most self-referential of its predecessors by far, even going as far as bringing a former convict from one of the past crimes back as a minor but important character. It acknowledges the journey you go on with these people.
At the heart of this one is Martin Beck. The series bears his name only because he’s the highest ranking officer in the homicide department. Usually, these pieces feature an ensemble cast. Yet with few exceptions, he mostly takes the lead. And I think there’s a clear reason why the writing team does that.
Previous books had been critical of the criminal justice system in Sweden. There have been strong hints at the rise of police militarization and the problems that causes. Usually, they’re but a few brushstrokes on the painting. Here, they’re dragged to the center. Whatever Beck’s faults are as a (fictional) human, Sjöwall and Wahlöö clearly see him as the moral balance of the police force, just by nature of him being competent and not hot-headed. He has prejudices but he rarely acts on them in his job.
The case itself becomes two cases and they’re resolved in typical Sjöwall/Wahlöö fashion, with luck and shoe leather police work. As Beck is working on the case, he reads in the paper that he’s been referred to as “the Swedish Maigret”, a reference to Georges Simenon’s legendary Parisian detective. Beck scoffs at this and those who have journeyed this far in the series will too. It’s an anti-thriller. Crimes get solved and the big picture never gets resolved.
This is the most didactic of the Beck series since Murder at the Savoy. It’s clear the writers have an axe to grind with their native land. That impacts the book a little bit but not enough to shake its standing as another good entry in a great series. Sadly, I have but one book left.