Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Roseanna - Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

1965 (Swedish); 1967 (English). 212 pages. Genre : Crime Fiction. Book #1 in the Martin Beck detective series. Overall Rating : B.
The nude body of a young woman is pulled out of Sweden's Lake Vattern. There are no identifying marks or any other clue as to her identity. Detective Martin Beck checks on all the Missing Person reports throughout Sweden, but none of them match the victim's description; even after a couple months have gone by. There's not a lot for him to go on.
What's To Like...
It's cool to see how the detectives go about trying to solve a case so devoid of clues. The plot moves along nicely, and if anything, the book was over too soon. This is a "police procedural" story, so the emphasis is on perseverence and dogged detective work. There are a couple lucky breaks, but they make the story work, so that's okay.
It's also neat to read a story based on 1960's technology. There are no e-mails or cell-phones. Long-distance phone conversations have poor reception and tenuous connections, and snail-mail is the only way to send written communication. And when the snail-mail is coming from overseas, the delays are significant.
There are a couple "holes" in the story. Most notably, nobody seems too concerned about where the girl's clothing and personal effects might have ended up. And the ploy used to catch the killer smacks of Police Entrapment, although maybe this was allowed in Sweden way back then.
Martin Beck is to a certain degree, the stereotypical p0lice detective. He smokes too much, his marriage is on the rocks, and he doesn't sleep well. Oh well, at least he 's not an alcoholic. Yet.
Cool new words in the book...
Only one - décolleté. Meaning (in fashion) : leaving the neck and shoulders uncovered.
"Don't think so much about that case. It isn't the first time we have failed. It won't be the last either. You know that just as well as I do. We won't be any the better or the worse for it."
"It isn't just the case I'm thinking about."
"Don't brood. It isn't good for the morale."
"The morale?"
"Yes, think what a lot of nonsense one can figure out with plenty of time. Brooding is the mother of ineffectiveness." (pg. 42)
Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo
Roseanna is the first of the 10-book Martin Beck series. Sjowall and Wahloo were a husband-&-wife team, who wrote alternating chapters of each book. Bizarre.
Sjowall and Wahloo blazed the trail for Swedish noir police procedurals. Their influence on Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson is profound. FWIW, the most famous book in the Martin Beck series is probably The Laughing Policeman, which was made into a Hollywood movie, starring Walter Matthau. I enjoyed Roseanna, and will probably end up reading a couple more of the series.

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