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.

Review: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – Murder at the Savoy

Continuing my read through the excellent Martin Beck series, I’ve just finished Murder at the Savoy, a slightly more downbeat read than I had expected. A dinner at the Savoy Hotel in Malmo ends in disaster when one of the guests, Viktor Palmgren is shot by an unknown assassin. The case is given to DI Per Mansson but the police have already wasted valuable time in the aftermath of the shooting. When a suspect is identified, the disaster prone duo, Kvant and Kristiansson, are asked to intercept him in Stockholm and the man escapes. Martin Beck is sent to Malmo to assist Mansson and by sifting through the clues and interviewing suspects, the case is finally solved. However, Martin Beck is filled with a sense of ennui as he considers the exploitative business practices of the victim and his instinctive sympathy for the killer.

Although the majority of the books in this series can be read as standalones, I found this to be one of the less accessible novels and the tone not particularly representative of the earlier books in the series. Whereas other books clearly comment on developments in Swedish society, the authors’ clear disapproval of contemporary business practices came across clearly in the narrative. Admittedly it is through the eyes of the various detectives that we come to see the amorality of the dead man’s working and personal life (the victim will hardly be missed by his family and friends) but it often felt like it was the writers who were speaking rather than the characters. It makes for a sometimes preachy read, although, as I have come to expect from this series, there are some wonderful light touches inserted into the book. In particular the Kvant and Kristiansson episode is very funny and reflects the original Swedish title of the book which can be translated as ‘Police, Police, Potato Pig.’

There are some intriguing developments for Martin Beck as a character in the narrative which may well be developed in the later books and also some interesting insights into the changing nature of marriage. I enjoyed the book but was glad to leave the slightly grim tone behind. I’m hoping that the next in the series, The Abominable Man, will return to a lighter touch as the authors cast their gaze around Swedish society.

I bought my copy of the book.