The first thing I should say in relation to this review is that I’ll be reading the second book in the series, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke – that should put the rest of my responses into perspective.
Martin Beck is a smart cop, but unlike CSI’s Gil Grissom or Luther’s John Luther or nearly any other TV show’s main cop (in a procedural), he is not compelling or charismatic and he doesn’t solve the mystery in an hour. It takes him three months just to figure out the victim’s name – a dismaying fact that is not lost on our hero. That he solves the crime at all is due to teamwork and diligence.
In a way, while this book certainly follows the pattern of a “procedural,” it might be better to think of it as an “anthropological.” Being a cop is hard. For men like Beck who don’t leave work at work (unlike his subordinates Meleander and Kollberg), it becomes a cancer or an open wound that eats away at the psyche.
The plot to catch the killer is – shockingly by today’s standards – legal and legitimate. No brazen, maverick cops here who shunt the law to the side – for the sake of the law. Nope, everyone is proper and officious and efficient and dedicated.
The story is a slow build, and I suspect that authors Sjöwall and Wahlöö mean to have us share Beck’s steady descent into desperation. Perhaps it was the year of publication (1965) or the translation, but while Beck’s melancholia is clearly documented, I didn’t particularly feel it.
That was my primary issue with the entire book, really. I didn’t drag myself though the prose to get to the end (as I have through some other recent reads). I was interested. I was a little at arm’s length.
I’m curious enough about the writing style, about the character of Martin Beck, and about one of the primary progenitors of Steig Larsson that I’ll definitely be picking up at least the next in the series, but I’m pretty skeptical that the authors can hold my attention for the duration of the 10-book series.