Tuesday 16 August 2011

Roseanne ~ Sjowall & Wahloo - A Killer Reads Review

I was recently invited to take part in the Killer Reads Review Panel, and was sent a copy of Roseanna for review.  Killer Reads open up their Killer Read Reviews to two guest panellists a month.

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Roseanna was written in 1965 by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, a husband and wife team from Sweden.  Sjowall and Wahloo sat down and planned a ten part series featuring Detective Martin Beck,  they wrote alternative chapters once their children were in bed each night.

This is a fairly straight forward murder mystery and begins with the discovery of a young woman's body, dredged up from Lake Vattern, in a small Swedish town.   After a medical examination it becomes clear that this is a case of murder - the woman was strangled and sexually assaulted.  Detective Martin Beck is drafted in the help the local police force.

Martin Beck is a somewhat gloomy character, he says little, but thinks a lot.  It is difficult for the reader to get into his mindset, he is aloof but not unfriendly.  He has a difficult relationship with his wife and children, preferring to spend what little free time he has either doing puzzles or sitting alone.

This is not a fast-paced thriller, but a story that slowly works it's way through the police investigation.
Fans of modern-day crime stories may be frustrated by the speed of Martin Beck's detecting, it often takes him an hour just to get a telephone connection to America.  This is 1960s Sweden, long before the days of internet, mobile phones and faxes, and although the story can never really be classed as 'thrilling' it is a complex and intelligent look at how police procedures of that era.

On the whole, I enjoyed this story but my main criticism would be around the dialogue which often felt quite formal and unemotional - I'm not sure if this is down to the translation, or the style of the authors.

I also got increasingly irritated by the use of Martin Beck's full name throughout the story.  Most of the other characters, certainly the other police officers were referred to by their surnames only.  I'm not sure why the lead character needed to be referred to by his full name - and why so often?

Martin Beck reminds me a little of a Swedish Inspector Banks - from Peter Robinson's Yorkshire detective series.  He's quiet and studious, smokes too much, over thinks things and struggles with relationships.

I'm not sure that I will rush to read the other nine books in the series, but acknowledge that Martin Beck was most definitely the inspiration for modern-day crime authors such as Henning Mankell and Jonathan Franzen.

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