Review: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – The Man Who Went Up in Smoke.

Trying to pace my reading of this series is proving impossible and as each book drops through my letterbox, courtesy of AbeBooks, the temptation to start reading is too great. This week I succumbed to  The Man Who Went Up in Smoke , which moves the narrative from 1960s Sweden to the charms of Iron Curtain Budapest.

Stockholm detective, Martin Beck, is sent to Hungary on the trail of a missing journalist, Alf Matsson. Forced to abandon his family holiday, he slowly becomes convinced that the case is more than a reporter who has gone AWOL. He checks into the same hotel as the missing man and follows up a series of clues which brings him to the attention of the Hungarian police.

Only when an attempt is made on his life do the threads of the case begin to come together and the police forces of the two countries begin to work together. Back in Stockholm, the police team painstakingly follow-up leads until the solution to the problem is revealed.

The book was similar in pace and tone to the first in the series, Roseanna. However, while the subject matter of the first book was the sexual attacks taking place on women, in the second the writers highlight the underground drugs industry that allow narcotics into Sweden through the ‘soft’ route of Iron Curtain countries.

Written in 1966, the book foreshadows some of the issues later addressed in the writing of Henning Mankell and in TMWWUIS I could see the similarities between Martin Beck and Kurt Wallander, as Beck aimlessly wanders the Budapest streets looking for inspiration. But like Roseanna, it is a police procedural where painstaking sifting of evidence eventually solves the case.

The descriptions of Budapest behind the Iron Curtain were fascinating with a real sense of time lost. The relationship between Beck and his Hungarian counterpart was also excellent – as mutual suspicion gives way to grudging respect. Once back in Sweden, the book is on familiar territory as we see Beck and his even more downbeat colleague Kollberg, methodically sift through clues. The writing was, as usual, excellent and in this book I felt the light touch of the translator, Joan Tate, who provides such perfectly pared down prose.

Other reviews can be found at Euro Crime and Mysteries in Paradise.