Monday, July 4, 2011

The Man on the Balcony - Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo

1968; 180 pages.  New Authors? : No.  Book #2 of the Martin Beck detective series (although Wiki says it's #3).  Genre : Murder/Mystery.  Sub-Genre : Police Procedural.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The parks in Stockholm have become dangerous places.  A serial mugger is already prowling them, easily outwitting the police.  Now little girls are being molested and murdered there as well.  Is the mugger broadening his crime portfolio?  If not, perhaps he's crossed paths with the killer.  But he's not going to voluntarily come in for an interview, now is he?

What's To Like...
    This is a Police Procedural, which is my favorite kind of crime novel.  It's fun to watch the detectives try to solve a case with almost no clues.  Long hours and dogged determination are the key here - not thrills, spills, chases, and unbelievable coincidences.

    The Man on the Balcony is set in Stockhom in the 1960's, and things were done differently back then.  The police have no qualms about breaking into a suspect's apartment without a warrant, interrogating a prisoner for hours without giving him access to a lawyer, or simply phoning a person-of-interest up to question him.

    There is a sprinkling of humor, which balances some serious commentary about Sweden's social problems.  The translating seems competently done, and the authors hit a nice balance when dealing with the crimes - not too bland; not too lurid.

    The knowledge that all this had happened before and was certain to happen again, was a crushing burden.  Since the last crime they had gotten computers and more men and more cars.  Since the last time the lighting in the parks had been improved and most of the bushes had been cleared away.  Next time there would be still more cars and computers and even less shrubbery.  Kollberg wiped his brow at the thought and the handkerchief was wet through.  (pg. 32)

    Stockholm is a city in which many thousands of people sleep out of doors in the summer.  Not only tramps, junkies and alcoholics but also a large number of visitors who cannot get hotel rooms and just as many homeless people who, though fit for work and for the most part capable of holding down a job, cannot find anyplace to live, since bungled community planning has resulted in an acute housing shortage.  (pg. 164)

"No wonder we're short of men in the force.  You have to be crazy to become a cop."  (pg. 27)
    This is a nice follow-up to Roseanna, the first book in this series (reviewed here).  There's a tad bit more "luck" here, but nothing that will make you say, "Oh c'mon now."

    The mystery itself is well-constructed.  I missed the scant clues (as did Martin Beck for a while), and so I was kept guessing along with the detectives.  The solution is neither too obvious nor too arbitrary.  My only beef is the book's brevity, although a number of other mystery authors also seem to think 200 pages per story is just fine.

    Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo blazed the trail of the Swedish noir police procedural genre.  Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson are worthy followers, but it's always neat to read to originals.  This is my second Martin Beck book, and I'm sure there will be more.  8 Stars.

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