Review: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – The Abominable Man

The Abominable ManThe last book that I read in this series, Murder at the Savoy, didn’t quite live up to my expectations so I thought I’d give the Martin Beck novels a rest for a while. However, over Christmas I read and enjoyed  The Abominable Man, where the writing duo turn their spotlight onto the corruption within the police force with the murder of Chief Inspector Stig Nyman in his hospital bed. As Nyman’s past comes to light, there is no shortage of suspects for Martin Beck and his colleagues to investigate.

Nyman, the ‘abominable man’ of the title, was known throughout the force for his sadism and for the number of complaints made against him that had never been proven. He had been in hospital for a few weeks with an undiagnosed stomach complaint when he is found murdered, his body punctured by numerous bayonet wounds. When Martin Beck and Lennart Kollberg look into his background, they are surprised at the extent to which he had demarked his working and family life. In the police force, he surrounded himself with a coterie of acolytes who helped cover up his brutality and bullying. At homes, however, he appeared to be a model husband and father whose only quirk was his unwillingness of let any of his colleagues into his house. The savagery of the bayonet attack, however, suggests that one of Nyman’s victims is finally exacting his revenge.

After Beck’s trip to Malmö in the last book, it was good to see him back on home territory with the stalwarts of his team. Once more, we got glimpses of Kollberg’s home life, as he yearns to get a career outside the police force and of his spiky relationship with ex-marine Gunvald Larsson. But the book has a serious message, that of police corruption and ineptitude and cleverly the writers bring together various strands of previous books. In particular there is a shocking event involving some of the force’s more ineffectual officers and the book has a horrific conclusion.

As a crime novel, it is less a ‘whodunnit’ and more an assessment of a chain of events that begins with the recruitment years earlier of a generation of men from the army, who struggle to find a place in the Stockholm police as it undergoes a period of liberalisation. By the time the novel is written, the tide is turning once more as police struggle to cope with the social problems of late twentieth century Sweden. For me, the series is back on firm territory and I’m going to be reading book eight, The Locked Room, soon.

Other reviews of The Abominable Man can be found at Eurocrime and Crime Scraps.

17 thoughts on “Review: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – The Abominable Man

  1. Sarah – I always admired Sjöwall and Wahlöö for their willingness to take on several aspects of Swedish society and I think you’re right that they do a fine job here of addressing the issue not just of police corruption and brutality but of what you might call generational differences in the force. Thanks for the reminder and for the excellent review.

    • Thanks Margot. Yes I found it fascinating how the Stokholm police had changed its attitude over the years, oscillating from one extreme to another it seemed.

  2. Every time you review a book from these authors, it reminds me that I have the first four in my TBR pile and have been meaning to read them for ages. They sound so interesting. Hope I get to one of them soon.

  3. I still think my favourite is Rosanna, but I wonder if that is due to how refreshing I found it – after so many more gory, explosive procedurals – with its quietly plodding yet so relentless progress. (I also love books where technology is quite primitive!) It’s a remarkable series.

    • Yes I think it is a very unusual series. My favourite is ‘Man on Balcony’ as I thought the deadpan style was perfectly suited to the horrible subject matter. It was the first book where I actually ‘got’ what the authors were trying to do ie portray the changes in Swedish society. In ‘Murder at the Savoy’ I thought their anti-capitalist stance seemed a little dated and I found it slightly preachy. But they were back on form on this one (the corruption of the police an ever present problem).

  4. I am enjoying going through this series too Sarah – so far only 3 as I drag it out. Fascinating premise this one has…I have often thought the police force must hide a lot of bullies….and worse. Not all of them obviously but if you are that kind of person there couldn’t be many better places to find a ‘home’.

    • I remember your comment about a job you had in the office that weeds out corrupt would be coppers. I have no idea if such an organisation exists here. If it doesn’t it should do.

  5. Like TracyK above, I feel I should read these books because your reviews make them sound so good. I read one years ago, and remember it as being fine but not grabbing me. But I have changed, the world has changed… I will try again!

    • I know what you mean Moira. Some books have to be read at a certain time in your life. I’m enjoying reading through the series but some hit the spot more than others.

  6. Since The Abominable Man is sitting firmly atop my TBR pile, I’m going to skip this review until I’m finished. I like Sjowall and Wahloo’s series and their social criticism. They were socialists who were disappointed in Sweden’s social democracy, seeing that it had the same ills as the governments prior to it. Each book has another revelation in this perspective.
    I like their point of view. It’s refreshing to me. I surely like social criticism in mysteries, and never have found these authors to overdo it, but they enmesh it with their crime story.
    Just wait until you read The Locked Room! What a wild ride; two different investigations, a very convoluted locked room murder, which they must have spent days concocting, crazed criminals and humor. I was amazed at this book.

    • Yes I like a book that the addresses the country’s social climate in a subtle way. I think Camilleri does it very well in the Montalbano books. In ‘The Abominable Man’, I could see how frustrated the writers were with the to-ing and fro-ing of policy in relation to policing and justice.

  7. I think Camilleri does it, too, and to me, Donna Leon does it very definitely, a different social issue in each Guido Brunetti book.
    Then again I love Sara Paretsky, especially as a U.S. reader, since the First Amendment is often assaulted. Paretsky stands up in her fiction and on her feet at forums all over the country. I wish more authors followed her example, and didn’t just pursue bestseller status and personal acclaim and money.
    Anyway, principles, ho hum, seem rare, especially over here.

    • That’s interesting Kathy. I used to absolutely love Sara Paretsky but as her books got longer and longer, I found myself more disinclined to read them and I haven;t got around to looking at the last one. But the first five or so books are absolute classics and were a major influence on my reading at the time.

  8. I’m glad you liked this one more than Murder At The Savoy! It is a good one. I really like learning secrets about established characters in a series. I can’t remember which of the Mankell books has Wallander looking into all the skeletons in Svedberg’s closet – it is quite fun as a reader when you’ve been with the series from the very beginning and are used to these characters taking background roles.

    • I agree Marie and there are a couple of series that I’ve read from the beginning and enjoyed the progress of the chapters. Henning Mankell is one of these too, as is Arnaldur Indridason.

  9. Pingback: The Best of January’s Reading « crimepieces

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