The 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.