Roseanna (1965) by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (translated by Lois Roth)

Following the publication in 1948 of their novel “The Toys of Death”, G.D. H. and M. Cole retired from the field of detective fiction. Their mantle of partnered-socialist-crime writers was not taken back up until 1965 when Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote “Roseanna” the first installment of a planned ten part saga, to be known collectively as “The Story of a Crime” which would shine a light on their belief that “there’s something rotten in the state of Sweden”.

Fortunately you don’t have to be a fellow-traveller to enjoy this series which traces the career of their central character, Martin Beck, over a period of ten years.

Beck is almost an anti-Maigret: Maigret is a happily married man, slightly regretful that they have been unable to have children, but generally content with his lot, whereas for Beck:

“One year after the birth of their daughter, there wasn’t much left of the happy and lively girl he had fallen in love with and their marriage had slipped into a fairly dull routine.”

Maigret is constantly eating and drinking but Beck can barely stomach any kind of food. Fate smiles upon Maigret and gifts criminals into his hands but for Beck, this particular case at least, is hard and misfortune dogs his steps, particularly when his trap is eventually sprung.

This book begins when a dredger unearths the body of a young woman from the Göta Canal. No one of her description has been reported missing and so it takes some time before she is identified as the titular “Roseanna”. Even this is scant information and it takes even longer before Beck comes up with a means that might, just might, give them more information on who her killer was. This is followed by a tense scene as we see the police reviewing key pieces of evidence, praying that it will give them what they are looking for. More dogged police teamwork finds a suspect but can they bring him to justice?

This is definitely a police procedural rather than clued whodunnit, but through the series we do see nods to the Golden Age. The next book “The Man Who Went Up In Smoke” if I recall correctly has a Croftsian style plot, “The Laughing Policeman” includes a variant of a well-worn trope and there is even the ironic “The Locked Room” which amused me although not recommended for those seeking an innovate howdunnit.

You may not like the torrent of Scandi-noir that has appeared since Sjöwall and Wahlöö started their series, but there is no denying the influence that they have had on the direction of crime fiction and it is worth reading at least one Beck just for that.

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