RE: RARA-AVIS: Re: Maj Sj÷wall and Per Wahl÷÷'s Martin Beck series

From: Harry Joseph Lerner (harry.joseph.lerner@mail.mcgill.ca)
Date: 20 Apr 2009

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    Thanks Jim for the great info! And, thanks to everyone who has responded to my query. Maybe it is the sign of good literature that it can elicit such a wide range of responses/opinions. I am now very much looking forward to reading the Martin Beck series and exploring other Scandinavian crime fiction.

    Best, Harry
    ________________________________________ From: rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com [rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of JIM DOHERTY [jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com] Sent: April 20, 2009 4:40 AM To: rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Maj Sj÷wall and Per Wahl÷÷'s Martin Beck series

    Harry,

    Re your question below:

    "Is anyone familiar with Maj Sj÷wall and Per Wahl÷÷'s Martin Beck series? Are they at all noirish, or are they more mainstream mystery? I know there are 10 novels in the series collectively titled THE STORY OF A CRIME. Does this mean that the individual novels are part of a larger single story arc or is the series title more symbolic than literal?"

    I've read 'em all, and they're all great. Personally, I prefer the early ones, from ROSEANNA through THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, though the later THE ABOMINABLE MAN is also very good.

    They got the idea for the series when they were hired to translate several of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels into Swedish, and it occurred to them that the police procedural, of all the mystery sub-genres, was best-suited for social comment. Ardent Marxists, they used their series as propaganda tools for their particular political philosophy.

    Re the 87th Precinct connection, there was talk of a series crossover with McBain's characters in which Beck would travel to NYC on some international case and collaborate with Steve Carella. I don't know whether that was ever seriously pursued, though.

    Oddly, because the books happen to be excellent cop novels, they have actually survived the deservedly discredited political system for which they were apologias.

    I personally find them very noirish, though I am one who does not see "noir" and "mainstream mystery" as mutually exclusive concepts.

    There is about all the books a dark, dreary, depiction of a failed society, beaten down and breaking down. Fact is, this seems to be a common feature of Scandinavian police procedurals in general, and Swedish police procedurals in particular.

    Their best-known book is probably THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, about a mass-murder on a Stockholm city bus, which won the 1970 Edgar for Best Novel. It was made into a movie, re-set in San Francisco, with Walter Matthau as the Martin Beck analog, rechristened "Jake Martin."

    For sheer action and suspense, their best one is THE ABOMINABLE MAN, about a sniper picking off people from a high-rise in a manner reminscent (deliberately reminiscent, I suspect) of Charles Whitman's 1966 rampage in Austin, TX. It was made into a film called THE MAN ON THE ROOF, this time set in Stockholm.

    If you find you like the Wahloos, you might also try Henning Mankell, featuring a cop named Kurt Wallender, who operates in a more rural, small-town setting. PBS's umbrella series, MYSTERY!, is broadcasting a British-made TV series based on the novels starring Irish Shakespearean ace Kenneth Branaugh as Wallender this summer. There is also a Swedish-made TV series, and several movies that are available on DVD with subtitles. One of Mankell's novels, SIDETRACKED, won the CWA Gold Dagger for Best Novel. The last book in the series, but the first chronologically, and thus the one you might want to start with, is a collection of four short stories plus one novel deemed too short to carry a book by itself, called THE PYRAMID.

    Other Scandinavian procedural writers include Matti Joensuu, a Finnish police officer who uses his professional background for his novels (only one or two have been translated so far); Helene Tursten, who writes a series featuring a policewoman, the first of which is DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS; Arnaldur Indrioason, one of whose Iceland-set cop novels, SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, also won a CWA Gold Dagger (the last non-English speaking novel to win; foreign novels were declared ineligible after Mankell's and Indroason's wins); Ake Edwardson, who writes about a cop named Erik Winters, and who's won three Swedish crime fiction awards; and Leif GW Persson, who is a professor of criminology and a member of Sweden's National Police Board, who's written a number of novels featuring a team of police detectives named Lars Johansson and Bo Jarnebring.

    Hope that helps.

    JIM DOHERTY



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