Continuing my read through the Martin Beck series, I’m now on the eighth book and dismayed to realise that I’m heading towards the conclusion of The Story of a Crime. At the end of The Abominable Man, Martin Beck had been seriously wounded by a shot to the chest from a rooftop sniper. In The Locked Room we see the slow recovery of the character as he becomes intrigued by a classic locked room mystery.
In Stockholm, a woman holds up a bank and in the process accidentally shoots and kills a customer who tries to disarm her. Across town, Karl Edvin Svard is found shot dead through the heart in a room locked from within, with no evidence of the firearm. The first case is investigated by the bank robbery squad, whose gung-ho attitude has farcical results. Meanwhile Martin Beck, who has been languishing on sick leave for 15 months is given the case of the locked room. By looking at the background of the victim he hits on an interesting connection between the shootings.
This is classic Sjöwall and Wahlöö where two disparate investigations are pieced together with painstaking care until a resolution is reached. The bank robbery squad is headed by a new character to the series, the aptly nicknamed Bulldozer Olsson, but there are some other interesting additions too, most notably the notorious bank robbers Malmstrom and Mohren. Neither police nor villains seem particularly competent.
I suppose the least interesting aspect of the book is the locked room element. They’re not my favourite type of crime books, and I wasn’t much interested in the reveal of how the crime had been committed, although there is a clever twist to the culprit being caught. What the locked room element does though, is introduce the character of Rhea Nielsen, a new love interest for Martin Beck.
Perhaps not the best book in the series but redeemed I think by the sly ending.
The book has also been reviewed at The Game’s Afoot, Eurocrime and Crime Segments.
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.
Other reviews of The Abominable Man can be found at Eurocrime and Crime Scraps.